NTSB: Used vehicle battery caused weeklong cargo ship fire

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. (AP) — An electrical fault from an improperly disconnected battery in a used vehicle led to the fire aboard a cargo ship docked in Florida that resulted in $40 million worth of damage, officials said Thursday.

The National Transportation Safety Board released a report of its findings, along with eight safety recommendations to federal regulators and the companies involved in the June 2020 blaze.

According to the NTSB report, nine firefighters were injured while responding to the Höegh Xiamen at the Port of Jacksonville. None of the vessel’s 21 crewmembers was injured. The fire took over a week to extinguish.

The Höegh Xiamen and its cargo of 2,420 used vehicles were declared a total loss, officials said. The vessel was towed to Turkey to be recycled in August 2020 after salvage operations were completed.

The NTSB concluded many of the vehicles loaded onto the vessel had batteries that were not disconnected and secured in accordance with procedures, which increased the risk of electrical arcing and component faults. During loading operations, both the loading personnel and crew missed opportunities to address these hazards, officials said.

The investigation showed that the detection of the fire was delayed because the vessels’ fire detection systems had not yet been reactivated after loading was completed. The Jacksonville Fire and Rescue Department’s response to the fire was delayed because the ship’s master didn’t immediately have available contact information for search and rescue authorities and did not know how to report a fire to local authorities.

The NTSB recommended that the shipping companies improve oversight of vehicle loading and training of personnel involved in battery securement. The agency recommended federal agencies improve regulations for ships that transport used vehicles. The NTSB also recommended that the vessel’s operator revise their procedures for the reactivation of fire detection systems and ensuring emergency contact information is immediately available for bridge teams.

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