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ICHCA – Day 4: Failure to Properly Disconnect and Secure Vehicle Batteries Led to Fire Aboard Vehicle Carrier Höegh Xiamen

Day 4 of our battery fire safety week and today it is a case study published by the US National Transportation Safety Board. The report itself provides a considerable amount of detail on the fire aboard the roll-on/roll-off cargo vessel Höegh Xiamen.

Nine shoreside firefighters heroically responding to the accident were injured during firefighting action on the first day. Fortunately, none of the vessel’s 21 crewmembers were injured. The vessel and its cargo of 2,420 used vehicles were declared a total loss valued at $40 million, and the vessel was later towed to Turkey for recycling.

NTSB noted that the transportation of used vehicles, such as those loaded on Höegh Xiamen, is excepted from Hazardous Materials Regulations because the vessel had a stowage area specifically designed and approved for carrying vehicles. Investigators found that used vehicles are often damaged and present an elevated risk of fire. NTSB concluded that greater inspection, oversight, and enforcement are needed to reduce this risk.

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Probable Cause

NTSB determined that the probable cause of the fire was an electrical fault from an improperly disconnected battery in a used vehicle on a cargo deck. This happened because “vehicle battery securement procedures were not being followed”.

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Contributing Factors

Detection of the fire was delayed because it was standard practice to deactivate fire detection systems during loading and the operating company did not have procedures to minimize the amount of time that vessel fire detection systems remained deactivated after loading evolutions.

Therefore, the vessel’s fire detection system was not immediately re-activated after the completion of loading.

Extinguishing system activation. The master’s decision to delay the release of the carbon dioxide fixed fire-extinguishing system contributed to the extent of the fire.

Raising the alarm. Shoreside emergency service response was delayed because the ship’s master did not know the process for contacting them/raising the alarm.

https://www.ntsb.gov/investigations/Pages/DCA20FM020.aspx

Recommendations

​NTSB made recommendations to:

the companies involved to improve oversight of vehicle loading as well as training of personnel involved in battery securement for used and damaged vehicles

federal agencies to improve regulations for vehicle carriers that transport used vehicles

the vessel operator to revise their procedures involving the deactivation of fire detection systems and to ensure emergency contact information is immediately available for bridge teams.​​

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