NTSB warns of potential fire hazards for ships transporting scrap

The National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) warned Thursday that lithium-ion batteries and other potential sources of ignition could pose a fire risk when shipping scrap as cargo.

While scrap cargo is normally non-hazardous and poses a low risk of fire, recent incidents have raised concerns.

In January 2022, a coastal pile caught fire in Newark, New Jersey, and two international ships transporting scrap experienced cargo fires in 2022. In 2017, the Japan Transport Safety Board investigated a debris fire in a ship’s hold in Fukuoka City, Japan.

On May 23, 2022 the tugboat Daisy Mae was towing a loaded scrap barge northbound into Delaware Bay when a fire was discovered aboard the barge. The fire burned for 26 hours before being extinguished by incoming fire boats. Damage to the barge was estimated at $7 million.

in one report The NTSB, released Thursday, concluded the likely cause of the fire was ignition of a combustible material from an undetermined source, such as lithium-ion batteries.

Despite off-take agreements with suppliers and quality assurance personnel who visually inspect scrap, metallic and non-metallic hazardous materials are often present in land-based scrap heaps and could be accidentally loaded onto ships, increasing the risk of fire and leading to serious fires. Once scrap metal is loaded onto a barge, it is difficult for a tugboat crew to visually inspect the cargo while underway.

To minimize the risk of fire, qualified cargo surveyors can assist the ship’s captain before and during the loading process to limit the presence of hazardous combustible material in the scrap metal. Thermal imaging is also an effective tool for identifying hotspots in scrap shipments at shore facilities.

The NTSB has recommended that the US Coast Guard, in conjunction with industry stakeholders, evaluate the risk of fire when shipping scrap metal and take appropriate action to minimize the risk. The recommendations also suggest improving communication and collaboration between shipowners, operators and shippers to identify hazardous materials that could potentially ignite and establish fire risk reduction protocols.

Naval Investigation Report 23-07? can be found on the NTSB website.

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