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Insurer calls for vigilance as lithium battery shipments surge

[ April 25, 2022   //   ]

Freight transport insurer TT Club is calling for increased vigilance after a spate of fires involving lithium batteries in seafreight. With the number of consumer products using such batteries increasing exponentially and new restrictions on the airfreight for such goods coming into force on 1 April, greater volumes are being transported by surface modes, it says.

TT’s risk management director, Peregrine Storrs-Fox says that lithium batteries have been classified as dangerous goods since the 1980s, the amount of energy derived from the active material has increased by up to 50%, leading to a “regulatory mismatch” as current rules are framed around mass and energy output.

The sharp rise in demand has also been accompanied by an increase in the number of cheaper, poorer quality and untested batteries. “E-commerce platforms have facilitated a global trade in potentially lethal products, often circumventing global standards and regulations,” says TT Club.

Risks are also compounded by used, fully or partially charged batteries, such as damaged and faulty products being returned or shipped as waste for disposal or recycling.

Lithium fuelled fires can also be very difficult to extinguish, prone to thermal runaway and even lead to explosions and, due to the heat generated, reignite after a fire has been extinguished.

Storrs-Fox observes: “The majority of shippers will take all practicable steps to ensure that their lithium batteries achieve certification and are classified, packaged, packed, labelled and declared correctly. A small – frankly criminal – minority are motivated to avoid compliance, entering cargo into the supply chain that presents great risk to all.”

He warns, also: “Once lithium batteries are placed into the intermodal supply chain, there is little opportunity for the cargo to be checked, visually or otherwise to verify compliance. For all who are contracted to transport, handle or store lithium batteries therefore, developing a thorough understanding of this particular cargo is a prudent step. Moreover, due diligence into the origin of manufacture and integrity of the shipper instigating the move of these potentially lethal power sources is critical.”