Fire Aboard Cosco Boxship Caused by Container Load of Batteries

Cosco Pacific (file image courtesy Briyyz / Twitter)

Published Jan 8, 2020 1:57 PM by The Maritime Executive

The container fire aboard the boxship Cosco Pacific last weekend was caused by a misdeclared cargo of lithium batteries, Cosco told customers in an update Thursday. 

Lithium-ion batteries are classified as dangerous goods under the IMDG code and must be declared, but the bill of lading for the affected containers listed their contents as "spare parts and accessories," according to Cosco. The boxes were loaded in Nansha and were bound for Nhava Sheva, India.

 The carrier asserted that a competing Asian shipping line was the cargo owner for the affected containers. 

According to Cosco, the fire was extinguished using the ship's CO2 fixed firefighting system, and no injuries were reported. The Cosco Pacific has diverted to the port of Colombo, Sri Lanka for an inspection. 

The container shipping industry has suffered a string of dangerous container fires over the past two years, including fires resulting in extensive damage, general average claims and loss of life. Misdeclared goods are seen as a key culprit in the epidemic, and ocean carriers have stepped up efforts to improve compliance among their customers. In response to the growing hazard, Hapag-Lloyd is implementing a stiff fine of $15,000 per container for misdeclared hazardous cargoes - plus any costs required to mitigate the violation. 

The problem is a focus for insurers, as well. According to estimates from TT Club, cargo packing and fire are together responsible for nearly 25 percent of all incidents and over 25 percent of total claims costs for the insurer. In 2019, the International Union of Marine Insurance launched an initiative to study issues with container ship firefighting, IMDG Code exceptions and the ongoing problem of misdeclaration of goods.