IMO SSE 10 report: Ensuring fire safety for BEV carriers and containerships


The carriage of battery electric vehicles at sea is relatively new. However, serious accidents on ships carrying such vehicles have occurred.

Felicity Ace © Marinha/Portuguese Navy

The International Maritime Organization has published the report from the Sub-Committee on Ship Systems and Equipment, 10th session (SSE 10), held 4-8 March 2024.

The SSE deals with various technical and operational matters related to systems and equipment on all ships, vessels, craft and mobile units covered by IMO instruments. This includes life-saving equipment, appliances and arrangements; and fire detection and fire extinguishing systems.

These are some of the most important topics discussed during SSE 10:

Fire safety on ships carrying electric vehicles

The Sub-Committee endorsed a roadmap and goal-based approach for developing fire safety systems and arrangements to reduce the fire risk of ships carrying new energy vehicles, including battery electric vehicles (BEVs). These will be submitted to the Maritime Safety Committee (MSC 109) in December 2024 for consideration and endorsement.

The carriage of BEVs at sea is relatively new. However, serious fire accidents on ships carrying such vehicles have occurred, including those resulting in fatalities and major material losses, such as the Fremantle Highway (2023), Felicity Ace (2022) and Sincerity Ace (2019). There are diverse opinions on the dangers and the methods to combat such fires.

The Sub-Committee agreed on the following roadmap to address the fire risks associated with electric vehicles carried on ships:

  • Review scientific reports and studies, new technologies, casualty reports and other available credible sources;
  • Identify hazards related to new energy vehicles, including BEVs, compared to conventional internal combustion engine vehicles;
  • Consider a goal-based approach;
  • Identify gaps in existing regulations and consider the way forward to mitigate the gaps; and
  • Identify placeholders for possible future amendments to international regulations (i.e. in SOLAS chapter II-2 on Construction – fire protection, fire detection and fire extinction).

The following goal-based approach was endorsed:

  • Goal: Minimize the risk of fire in vehicle spaces, ro-ro spaces, and special category spaces of ships in terms of carrying new energy vehicles, including BEVs;
  • Identify hazards and risks of fire of new energy vehicles, including BEVs;
  • Examine existing regulations of SOLAS chapter II-2 and whether the regulations cover the identified hazards; and
  • Formulate functional requirements in support of the abovementioned goal concerning fire detection, control, containment and suppression capabilities, as well as for systems designed to mitigate risks from BEV battery fire, beyond heat and smoke generation.

The Sub-Committee agreed to re-establish the Correspondence Group on Fire Protection to carry the work forward. It encouraged Member States and international organizations to share their data of scientific reports and studies, new technologies, casualty reports and other available credible sources on fire incidents of new energy vehicles, including BEVs, to the Correspondence Group for consideration.

The Correspondence Group will report on its progress to the next session of the Sub-Committee (SSE 11).

Fire detection and control on containerships

The Sub-Committee continued its work on developing amendments to SOLAS chapter II-2 and the Fire Safety Systems (FSS) Code, to enhance measures to detect and control fires in cargo holds and the cargo deck of containerships.

The issue of fires, particularly those linked to ultra-large containerships, has gained increasing attention lately. Recent containership fires include the X-Press Pearl in 2021, Yantian Express in 2019 and APL Vancouver in 2018.

The Sub-Committee considered a range of fire safety measures or risk control options (RCOs) including fire-fighting tools, fixed and portable fire detection systems, such as video and infra-red thermal imagers, fire extinguishing systems and protection of hatch covers.

The Fire Protection Correspondence Group will further advance the work at SSE 11, to amend SOLAS and the FSS Code, as required, while the CCC and HTW Sub-Committees will also be invited to address other RCOs in their respective purview.

Read the full report HERE.