In July, a ship called the Fremantle Highway was carrying 3,784 new cars across the Atlantic ocean on its way to Singapore when it caught fire. 498 of the vehicles aboard were electric cars. Thanks to the wonders of the internet, shortly after news about the burning ship reached the eyes and ears of millions of people, it became known that some of those cars were battery-electric vehicles. In fact, an employee of the ship’s owner, Shoei Kisen Kaisha, was the first to suggest the fire was caused by those EVs.
It wasn’t long — about 2.7 nanoseconds according to calculations performed by a crack team of cyber sleuths at CleanTechnica — before word spread throughout the known world that one or more of the 489 electric cars was the culprit. Since it is well known that electric car batteries sometimes catch fire, it seemed safe to assume that is what happened aboard the Fremantle Highway.
We have all been treated to lurid tales in the press about how intense battery fires are. As videos of the smoke billowing from the stricken ship rocketed across the internet, many speculated that a fire that massive and intense must be related to the electric cars on board. The headlines screamed and the talking heads spoke with righteous indignation about the scourge of electric cars and how packing them into the hold of a ship was just begging for a horrific incident.
Lo and behold, their prognostications had come true. Just as predicted, now another ship was on fire. When would people learn not to ship electric cars by sea? Oh, the horror! The news media went crazy with lurid stories of how electric cars were responsible for the fire that killed one crew member and threatened the lives of 21 others who had to be rescued by helicopters.
The last time a blaze occurred aboard a ship carrying electric cars, the ship sank in 10,000 feet of water, making it unlikely the cause of that fire will ever be determined. At that time, Joao Mendes Cabecas, the captain of the ship known as Facility Ace told the press that lithium-ion batteries in the electric cars on board helped prevent the crew from extinguishing the blaze.
In this case, however, the fire was extinguished eventually and the disabled craft was towed to Eemshaven, a port in northeastern Netherlands, where salvage operations have begun. Peter Berdowski is in charge of the salvage operation, which is being undertaken by Royal Boskalis Westminster NV. After inspecting the damaged ship, he told the local press that between 900 and 1000 of the cars on board appear to be in good condition — including all 498 electric cars.
Berdowski told Bloomberg the fire probably started in the 8th deck of the 12-deck ship, as that is where the worst damage is. The electric cars were all on decks far below. Nevertheless, Berdowksi himself fanned the flames by saying “all experts with any knowledge on this topic agree that the transportation of electric vehicles introduces additional risks.”
Electric Cars & Fires At Sea
Berdowski and the unnamed employee of the ship’s owner are confusing coincidence with causality. It is like saying a traffic accident happened shortly after a man wearing a fedora crossed the street at the same location. Both statements are true. There was an accident and a man wearing a fedora did cross the street just before it happened. But there is no causal relationship between the two.
Another example is the man who walks around snapping his fingers all day. When he is asked why he is snapping his fingers, he says he is doing it to keep the elephants away. “But there are no elephants anywhere near here!” his inquisitor exclaims. “See?” the man says. “That just proves snapping my fingers is working!”
Stories flood into CleanTechnica’s state of the art communications center all day every day about fires caused by e-bike batteries. Make no mistake, these stories are real and the damage they cause can be horrific. We would never make light of the tragedy a fire of any kind is capable of. However, many e-bikes have only a rudimentary battery management system at best. They also tend to be charged to 100% capacity every time, which increases the risk of battery fires.
Lastly, they are subject to tampering by unskilled owners or being charged with equipment that is far less than state of the art. The batteries in electric cars in most cases have sophisticated cooling and battery management systems designed to prevent them from catching fire.
What Insurance Companies Know
Insurance companies manage risk for a living. When it comes to knowing what activities are dangerous and which are not, they are the ones to turn to for the straight skinny. The Driven reports that following the fire aboard the Fremantle Highway, the International Union of Marine Insurance said in a statement, “To date, no fire onboard a roro or Pure Car and Truck Carrier (PCTC) has been proven to have been caused by a factory-new EV. IUMI understands that the transportation of EVs raises certain risks that are different to those involved in carrying internal combustion engine vehicles but research suggests that the risks are not heightened or more dangerous.“
Data from the Swedish Civil Contingencies Agency (MSB) shows EVs are 20 times less likely to catch fire than gasoline and diesel cars. In 2022, there were 23 fires in the country’s fleet of 611,000 electric cars, for an incidence rate of 0.004%. Over the same period, 3,400 fires were reported in Sweden’s 4.4 million petrol and diesel cars for an incidence rate of 0.08%.
Australian group evfiresafe keeps an ongoing tally of fires in electric cars. As of June 30, it has verified 393 battery fires globally since 2010.
A few weeks ago, a neighbor sent me an email about a horrible fire that supposedly occurred in an electric car. It was all over social media, as the pundits played a game of “Ain’t It Awful.” There was much hand-wringing and moaning about how dangerous electric cars can be. Upon further review, however, the fire actually took place in Russia and involved a truck carrying propane tanks.
The resulting fire was intense — and scary — but it had nothing whatsoever to do with electric cars. I sent him some information about how there are nearly 200 gasoline fires involving automobiles in the US every day. I didn’t hear anything back from him.
As the news media continues to report exaggerated stories about fires in electric cars, we consider it our duty to clap back with the truth. As always, ignorance can be overcome by the application of relevant information. There is no known cure for stupidity.
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