New Hybrid Tour Boat Suffers Battery Fire Under Way

Brim under way in 2020 (Brim Explorer)

Published Mar 12, 2021 2:08 PM by The Maritime Executive

Firefighters in Vestfold, Norway have extinguished a battery fire aboard the battery-hybrid passenger vessel Brim.

On Thursday, the vessel was under way from Sarpsborg to Sandefjord after finishing an educational event for children. During the transit, a battery bank caught fire, potentially due to overheating and thermal runaway, according to Norwegian broadcaster NRK. Only four crewmembers - and no passengers - were on board when the boat caught fire in the Oslofjord, according to the operator's spokesperson. No injuries were reported.

She was towed to a quay on the Valløy peninsula outside of Tønsberg, Norway, where responders are monitoring the battery packs. As a precautionary measure, police set up a wide exclusion zone in the area in case of explosion. 

"There is a risk that the gas [hydrogen], which these batteries may develop in the event of overheating, ignites. The fire service can thus not rule out an explosion and will therefore close off the southern part of the peninsula until further notice," local police forces said in a press release. 

As of Friday, the fire has been extinguished and the batteries are cooling down, according to NRK. A fire watch will continue for several days in case of a new flare-up.

The Brim's operator, Brim Explorer, offers fjord tours and short cruises out of Oslo, Tromsø, Lofoten and Svalbard. Both of its vessels are hybrid powered. "The most important thing now is that everyone involved has been well taken care of, and the next step is to find out what is the reason and how we can get back into operation as soon as possible," Brim Explorer said in a brief statement. 

The 2019-built Brim was fitted with a Corvus Dolphin Energy Storage System, "specifically designed for lightweight applications [with] outstanding energy density and a reasonable power density with the highest level of safety."

"Corvus is continuously supporting all stakeholders on how to handle the incident. Temperatures are reported to be down to normal, but no one is allowed to go onboard the vessel yet," said Corvus in an update Friday. "A technical investigation team has been established to support the process of finding the cause of the incident. We expect to be able to go onboard early next week. Corvus Energy aims for full transparency and will continue to support all stakeholders in the process going forward."

Fires have been a periodic issue since the debut of lithium-ion batteries in marine applications. The first lithium battery-hybrid tug in U.S. service, the Corvus Energy-equipped Campbell Foss, caught fire less than a year after the system installation. Operator Foss Maritime reached a settlement with Corvus and systems integrator AKA, and the Campbell Foss was converted back to diesel-only propulsion. She remains in service with a Foss subsidiary under the name Bering Wind. 

In October 2019, the battery-hybrid ferry Ytterøyningen caught fire at the pier, then sustained an internal explosion. 12 first responders sought medical attention after exposure to gases emitted by the burning battery packs. Manufacturer Corvus Energy attributed the Ytterøyningen fire to a coolant leak from a gasket in the liquid-cooled energy storage system and described it as a "one-off event." A saltwater sprinkler system may have contributed to the escalation of the fire and the explosion. 

Lithium-ion batteries are a highly efficient and cost-effective means of energy storage; while widely used, they also come with a risk of thermal runaway and fire in the event of overheating, electrical shorts, puncture damage or overcharging. Marine-grade units have extensive safety features to mitigate these risks, and they are typically installed in specially-designed compartments to reduce the possibility of explosion or the spread of fire.

Consumer-grade lithium ion batteries also pose a known fire risk for the transport sector, and they are classified under the IMDG code as dangerous goods. A misdeclared lithium-ion battery cargo was the likely cause of the fire aboard the boxship Cosco Pacific in 2020. The deadly fire aboard the dive boat Conception, which killed 34 people, may have been sparked by a lithium battery charging station for consumer electronics.