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A fire last week aboard the container ship COSCO Pacific was caused by misdeclared lithium-ion batteries, the company has announced.

The incident occurred as the vessel crossed the Arabian Sea en route from Malaysia to India. The ship’s crew suppressed the fire with CO2 but were forced to call at the Port of Colombo in Sri Lanka, where the ship remains berthed. There were no reported injuries.

The cargo, reportedly owned by Wan Hai Lines, a Taiwanese shipping company, had been listed as “spare parts and accessories”, contravening regulations pertaining to the declaration of hazardous goods.

COSCO Pacific fire caused by misdeclared lithium batteries
Credit: Chris Karidis

Lithium batteries are hazardous due to their corrosive and flammable nature. They are particularly dangerous when transported by aircraft due to high pressures in the cargo hold, but container shipping has also suffered a slew of dangerous container fires in recent years.

Typically when a fire occurs aboard a container vessel, all cargo owners are expected to pay a “general average”—a proportionate amount of any losses due to the incident—if they want delivery to be completed, though businesses may decide it’s not worth the cost to retrieve the cargo.

A number of organisations, including the International Cargo Association (TIACA), the International Federation of Freight Forwarder Associations (FIATA), and the International Air Transport Association (IATA), have joined forces to crack down on rogue shippers by improving real-time incident reporting, which could be shared industry-wide.

Source: Port Technology, The Maritime Executive

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