Felicity Ace, which sank outside of the Azore Islands in 2022 after a fire which is believed to have started in an EV.  Photo by the Portuguese Coast Guard.
06 Feb 2023

Extreme fire risk with EV´s exposed to salt water - Coast Guard issues alert to not allow on ships


The U.S. Coast Guard is warning the shipping industry of the extreme risk of loading electric vehicles with damaged Lithium-Ion batteries  onto commercial vessels.

As CTIF.org has reported before, saltwater exposure can harm Lithium-Ion batteries, and cause a chemical reaction which  creates a high fire risk. This was discovered in the aftermath of Hurricane Ian when a large amount of EVs with damaged batteries caught fire in southern Florida.  

 In the aftermath of the category 4 hurricane, first responders encountered numerous EV fires where investigations have determined were caused by exposure of the Lithium-Ion batteries to saltwater.

“Vessels, ports, and shippers should be aware of this extreme risk and avoid loading EVs with damaged Lithium-Ion onto commercial vessels,” the US Coast Guard safety alert reads.

An earlier safety alert (Safety Alert 01-22)was  issued last March which highlights a recent incident where improperly discarded Lithium-Ion batteries caught fire in a container while en route to the Port of Virginia, where it was set to be loaded onto a ship. The container’s bill of lading allegedly listed the contents as “computer parts,” not lithium batteries.


 A set of recommendations issued by the Coast Guard:

In an article in GCactain.com, the latest safety alert is referenced, where the Coast Guard strongly recommends that vessels, ports, shippers, and regulators take the threat of delayed ignition of saltwater damaged lithium-ion batteries seriously: 

  • Conduct a comprehensive review of the vehicle shipping requirements found in both the Hazardous Materials Regulations (49 CFR) and the International Maritime Dangerous Goods (IMDG) Code. All lithium batteries are hazardous materials regulated by the Department of Transportation’s Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration (PHMSA). As such, they are required to comply with the Lithium Battery Guide for Shippers.
  • Conduct review of additional requirements for shipping damaged lithium ion batteries located in the PHMSA Safety Advisory Notice for the Disposal and Recycling of Lithium Batteries in Commercial Transportation. Due to the large size of EV batteries, the packaging requirements to comply with damaged shipment regulations are inadequate. As such, IMDG special provision 376 specifically requires approval from the competent authority (PHMSA or US Coast Guard) prior to shipment of damaged lithium batteries.
  • Remain vigilant and ensure damaged lithium-ion vehicle batteries are not loaded onto vessels for shipment, placed within port facilities, or enclosed in containers.


FEMA recently issued guidance for how to respond on EVs exposed to salt water

(The below information is directly from the US Fire Administration FEMA´s website)

With EV sales expected to increase drastically in the next few years, there are growing concerns in the firefighting community about how to deal with EV fires.

The NHTSA emphasizes first identifying any flooded electric vehicles and then moving them at least 50 feet from any structures, other vehicles or combustibles.

NHTSA's 2014 guidance for first responders PDF and second responders PDF, developed in collaboration with the U.S. Fire Administration, National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) and others, was revised after the 2012 flooding from Hurricane Sandy submerged several hundred EVs in salt water, leading to several fires in Fisker EVs.

The 2014 bulletins now incorporate response guidance related to hazards from flooded EVs.


According to the NHTSA, residual salt within the battery or battery components can form conductive “bridges” that can lead to short circuit and self-heating of the battery, resulting in fires. The time frame in which a damaged battery can ignite has been observed to vary widely, from days to weeks.

For example, in the storm surge in Florida that accompanied Hurricane Ian in September 2022, many vehicles were submerged at least partially in salt water. In the following weeks, at least 12 EV fires were reported in Collier and Lee Counties. One on Sanibel Island burned 2 houses to the ground. (See also: Hurricane Isaias Shows Why Storm Fire Safety Matters)

Also, the International Association of Fire Chiefs (IAFC) has a webinar (available free of charge after registration) on response to EV battery fires associated with salt water submersion.


Photo Credit: (Above) The cargo ship Felicity Ace, which sank outside of the Azore Islands in 2022 after a fire which is believed to have started in an EV.  Photo by the Portuguese Coast Guard.