Report finds failure to properly disconnect vehicle batteries led to fire

Improperly disconnected vehicle batteries led to fire, report finds
Improperly disconnected vehicle batteries led to fire, report finds

The National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) published its report on the fire aboard vehicle carrier Höegh Xiamen that resulted in $40 million worth of damage.

On June 4, 2020, about 1530 eastern daylight time, the crew of the 600-foot-long, Norwegian-flagged roll on/roll-off vehicle carrier Höegh Xiamen were preparing to depart the Blount Island Horizon Terminal in Jacksonville, Florida, en route to Baltimore, Maryland, when they saw smoke coming from a ventilation housing for one of the exhaust trunks that ran from deck 12 (the weather deck) to one of the cargo decks.

Crew members discovered a fire on deck 8, which had been loaded with used vehicles. The crew attempted to fight the fire but were repelled by heavy smoke. Shoreside fire department teams from the Jacksonville Fire and Rescue Department arrived at 1603 and relieved the crew. The captain, after consulting with and receiving concurrence from the fire department, had carbon dioxide from the vessel’s fixed fire-extinguishing system released into decks 7 and 8, and the crew then evacuated from the Höegh Xiamen.

The fire continued to spread to the higher cargo decks and the accommodation. Shoreside firefighters entered cargo decks with fire hoses, and nine firefighters were subsequently injured, five of them seriously, in an explosion. Responders subsequently adopted a defensive strategy, cooling external exposed surfaces. The fire was extinguished over a week later on June 12.

The Höegh Xiamen and its cargo of 2,420 used vehicles were declared a total loss valued at $40 million, and in August 2020, the vessel was towed to Turkey to be recycled.

Probable cause
NTSB has determined that the probable cause of the fire aboard the vehicle carrier Höegh Xiamen was Grimaldi’s and SSA Atlantic’s ineffective oversight of longshoremen, which did not identify that Grimaldi’s vehicle battery securement procedures were not being followed, resulting in an electrical fault from an improperly disconnected battery in a used vehicle on cargo deck 8.

Contributing to the delay in the detection of the fire was the crew not immediately reactivating the vessel’s fire detection system after the completion of loading.

Contributing to the extent of the fire was the master’s decision to delay the release of the carbon dioxide fixed fire-extinguishing system.

Recommendations made to various organisations

– To the Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration
Eliminate the exceptions provided in Title 49 Code of Federal Regulations 176.905(i) for used and damaged flammable-liquid-powered vehicles transported by roll-on/roll-off vehicle carriers.

– To the US Coast Guard
Propose to the International Maritime Organization to eliminate International Maritime Dangerous Goods Code special provision 961 for used and damaged flammable-liquid-powered vehicles transported by roll-on/roll-off vehicle carriers.

– To the National Maritime Safety Association
Inform of the circumstances of the Höegh Xiamen accident and encourage to establish battery securement procedures as well as a means to ensure that the procedures are followed through adequate oversight of vehicle loading and battery securement.

– To Grimaldi Deep Sea
Develop a training program for any vehicle preparation personnel tasked with supervising and conducting vehicle battery securement to ensure greater fire safety aboard vehicle carriers.

– To Höegh Technical Management
Revise “Vehicle Lashing Inspection Procedure” to include a process to ensure all vehicle batteries are disconnected before departure and provide training to all crew on the revised procedure.

Download the report: Höegh Xiamen NTSB Report

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