The transport of electric cars by ship, a challenge for the international maritime sector

The transport of electric cars by ship, a challenge for the international maritime sector

The decision of the shipping company Armas-Trasmediterránea to prohibit the boarding of pure electric cars on the ship 'Ciudad de Valencia', which makes the route between the Canary Islands and Cádiz at the request of the shipowner (the Italian company Visemar Ropax) due to the risk of fire the lithium batteries that power this type of vehicles, opens the door to a debate that transcends the Canary Islands and that has become one of the main challenges facing international maritime transport after several incidents have occurred on the high seas.

In 2022 The cargo ship 'Felicity Ace' sank near the Azores with almost 4,000 vehicles from such renowned brands as Porsche, Audi, Volkswagen or Bentley, among others, after one of the electric vehicles it was transporting caught fire. This summer it was the ship 'Freemantle Highway', with almost 3,000 vehicles -some were Rolls Royce-, which caught fire off the Dutch coast for the same reason. In this case, the ship did not sink and she could be towed.


  • Danger
    The International Code for the Safe Transport of Dangerous Goods considers lithium batteries as such.

  • Devices
    It is all devices with these batteries that raise questions, including other forms of mobility.

  • Skateboards
    A few weeks ago, Madrid banned scooters on the subway or public buses after an incident.

  • Prohibition
    In early October a scooter battery caught fire in the subway and led to this ban.

Both events have revealed a real risk. Sector sources point out that, although The possibility of an electric vehicle battery catching fire is very small; if this occurs, the consequences can be devastating..

When a lithium battery is ignited, what is called the 'blue flame' occurs and its extinction is very complicated and difficult. You can only put out the fire when there is no oxygen. "Even underwater the fire continues," these sources indicate.

Combustion cars can also heat up and ignite but extinguishing is easier; Lithium batteries catch fire spontaneously and cannot be put out until there is no gas left inside.which requires concrete measures to extinguish it.

In March 2023, the European Maritime Safety Agency (Emsa) published its Cargosafe study on risks associated with fires on ships and pointed out that the main culprits in cargo fire accidents included lithium-ion batteries. At a time when sustainable mobility options are growing and electric vehicles are one of the main options to fight climate change, maritime transport must advance at the same speed so as not to stop its progress.

In territories such as the Canary Islands, where to move between islands or go to the peninsula with vehicles the only possibility is by boat, this requirement for security measures is even greater.

Shipping companies, shipowners, freight forwarders... all over the world analyze the real risks of transporting these vehicles and act according to their own criteria. waiting for the International Maritime Organization (IMO), the United Nations organization that establishes safety at sea, to regulate this risk and determine what security measures ships must comply with to minimize the risk in this type of vehicles.

At the European level, a working group called 'Lash Fire' has been created, which includes some of the shipping companies that operate in Europe such as Trasmed (from the Grimaldi group) and financed by the European Union, which tries to find solutions against fires. maritime with innovative technologies. In this context there are shipping companies that have introduced their own security measures, such as Trasmed which, for example, covers electric vehicles with fire blankets during the journey and has equipped its ships with a sprinkler system to stop any fire as soon as possible. Others respect the demands of the owners of their chartered vessels, such as Armas, and choose not to load these vehicles although they accept them on other ships in their fleet.