4,000 luxury cars get a Viking funeral

There is currently a container ship on fire in the Atlantic. Among the cargo are “about 4,000 Porsches, Bentleys and other luxury cars”. Pretty expensive fire.

The interesting question is what started the fire. For example if it started in the lithium batteries of electric cars this would be of major significance.

What are the best theories of the cause?

Engineering spaces and server rooms are protected with FM-200 fire suppressant systems (a non-toxic upgrade of the old halon tanks). But has nobody considered adding this to cargo bays now that electric cars are there?

We know a couple who were eating breakfast a few years ago when their phone rang. A neighbor was calling to ask about the smoke billowing from their garage. They left their home and dialed 911. The house was totally destroyed. The electric car they purchased just a few days prior was thought to be the cause. I’ll have to ask my gf what the final outcome was.

Hard to say at this point. The fire got out of control, the crew abandoned ship, and the fire is still going. Last I heard they were bringing in special fire-fighting equipment to put it out.

According to news articles, fuel leaks or greasy rags in engine rooms are the usual suspects in ship fires. Lithium ion batteries are currently fueling the fire and making things worse. It’s possible that a lithium ion battery started the fire, but no one really knows yet.

ETA: This quote sums up the issue fairly well:

From here:

If lithium ion battery fires are possible in cars in transit, would disconnecting the batteries help prevent such fires?

Grain ships don’t burn like this because the cargo holds are sealed and flooded with nitrogen.

4000 cars??? Jeez, that seems impossible. They must really cram them in there. What an ecological disaster.

Why? When the car is not running there is only an extremely small amount of current flowing through battery (to power the clock for example).

I think the issue would be lowering the amount of charge in the battery. The problem is the vehicles are driven on and off the ship to load and unload, Roll-on/roll-off ( RORO or ro-ro) ships


The MV Golden Ray had 4,200 cars on it when it capsized in 2019. They were still pulling cars out of the hull when I was in St. Simons Island last year.

I find the quote misleading. Lithium battery fires aren’t thermite reactions, or similar. They do not, as far as I can tell, get nearly hot enough to melt steel. Here’s a study on thermal runaway for various cell types:

The maximum temperature they recorded for any cell type was 876 C; well below the temperature to melt steel. Most types did not get that hot, and they will get even less hot when embedded in the full vehicle structure.

Tesla’s emergency response guide says simply to use water on vehicle fires, but that it can take up to 24 hours to extinguish. Essentially, the goal is to keep the battery relatively cool while it burns itself out. Beefing up the sprinkler systems would seem like a good idea for ships containing lots of EVs.

They rang their Porsche?

Electric cars in any sort of half-way significant numbers are a VERY new phenomena. It’s very likely that nobody involved in making such a decision has even thought about the possibility until now.

I see that in response to a small number of battery fires a few years ago, Tesla added layers of aluminum and titanium to the underbody. And that’s where this flies over my head, since we all know how a titanium fire behaves.

I don’t know, I have been reading about the concerns of firefighters about the difficulties of putting out electrical car fires (single instances) for quite some years, so the basic problem is well known and could/should have been considered when many of them are stored as cargo.

The titanium was armor. The event they were protecting against was when driving over something like a trailer hitch. Unprotected, the battery could be sliced open and start a fire. Nothing to do with protecting against a fire already in progress.

It’s not easy to burn a block of titanium. Shavings, sure, but a plate of titanium isn’t going to ignite under normal fire conditions.

But I can still get out to that ship (with a couple of inflatable Zodiacs) and grab a Porsche that isn’t on fire yet…

… right?

I’m afraid I don’t. Could you elaborate and fight my ignorance, please?

I’ve only had to deal with titanium shavings set alight (not blocks, as DrStangelove notes above ) hit by welding contractors who pencil-whip their hot work permits. That’s a class D fire: it won’t be extinguished with water or CO2 or aqueous film-forming foam. It just burns until it’s done.

I looked to see if Teslas have magnesium in their front ends like BMWs and other cars. When that burns it takes the oxygen out of your firefighting water and burns even more fiercely.

Thanks! Learn something new all the time around here. :sunglasses: