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Lithium-ion battery explosion leads to fire on oil tanker

14 November 2023

The thermal runaway of a cell within a handheld radio’s lithium-ion battery led to a fire on an oil tanker last year while docked in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, the US National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) said on 9 November. The fire resulted in $3 million (£2.4m) in damage to the vessel.

Image: NTSB
Image: NTSB

The oil tanker S-Trust was docked at the Genesis Port Allen Terminal on 13 November 2022 when a fire started on the bridge. The fire was caused by one of the cells in a lithium-ion battery for an ultra-high-frequency handheld radio exploding. The batteries and chargers for the handheld radios were located on the communications table on the bridge. The vessel’s crew extinguished the fire. The S-Trust’s navigation, communication and alarm systems were damaged beyond use. No injuries were reported.

Figure 1 are a series of photos taken from the bridge closed-circuit camera showing (1) a second explosion occurs, (2) an object is propelled on fire into the air (circled), and (3) the object, still on fire, landing on the floor (Source: Stalwart Management Ltd).

Lithium-ion battery cell explosions are typically caused by a thermal runaway, a chemical reaction that can cause the cell to ignite and explode. A lithium-ion battery cell can spontaneously experience a thermal runaway if damaged, shorted, overheated, defective or overcharged.

The NTSB said crews can help to prevent thermal runaways and ensuing fires by:

- Following manufacturers’ instructions for the care and maintenance of lithium-ion batteries;
- Properly disposing of damaged batteries;
- Avoiding unsupervised charging; and
- Keeping batteries and chargers away from heat sources and flammable materials.

“Companies should ensure that lithium-ion batteries and devices that use lithium-ion battery packs are certified by Underwriters Laboratory or another recognized organization,” the NTSB’s report says.

If a lithium-ion battery fire occurs, crews can attempt to extinguish the fire with water, foam, CO2, or other dry chemical or powdered agents designed for use on Class A (combustible) fires. If the battery fire cannot be extinguished, personnel should attempt to allow the pack to burn in a controlled manner, including by watching for nearby cells that may also experience thermal runaway and extinguishing other combustibles that may catch on fire.

Read the NTSB’s report by visiting:

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