USCG Reports Another Fire in a Misdeclared Box of Scrapped Batteries

A previous misdeclared containerload of scrapped lithium-ion batteries caught fire last year (USCG file image)

Published Mar 14, 2022 5:30 PM by The Maritime Executive

After another fire in a misdeclared container of scrapped batteries, the Coast Guard has placed all containers from the consignment's shipper on hold until they are proven safe. 

At about 2020 hours on March 4, Coast Guard Sector Los Angeles-Long Beach received a report of a shipping container on fire at the San Pedro Bay port complex at LA/Long Beach. The box was due to be loaded on a vessel sailing for China on March 10 and was still waiting on the quay. 

40 firefighters from the L.A. Fire Department responded to the scene and extinguished the fire, but their efforts were impeded by the fact that the container was misdeclared, according to the Coast Guard. The bill of lading for the container indicated that it carried “synthetic resins,” a non-hazardous material. It actually held used lithium-ion batteries, which are a hazardous material with a high risk of fire.

As a precaution, the Coast Guard worked with port officials to find and identify any other shipping containers at the facility that might pose the same risk. Together with Customs and Border Protection, the Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Administration, and the Port of Los Angeles, the USCG worked to identify and inspect all containers belonging to the same shipper. In addition, the Coast Guard placed a hold on all of the shipper's outbound boxes until they can prove that the shipments comply with safety regulations.

“Undeclared hazardous materials pose a severe risk to the safety of cargo vessels, the ports, and first responders,” said Capt. Rebecca Ore, Captain of the Port and Commanding Officer of U.S. Coast Guard Sector Los Angeles – Long Beach. “Along with our federal, state, and local partners, the Coast Guard is dedicated to working with all shippers to ensure hazardous materials are properly marked and packaged for safe transportation.”

Just last week, the Coast Guard released a safety bulletin about a similar cargo fire in a container in transit. On August 19, 2021, a container loaded with discarded lithium batteries caught fire while enroute to the Port of Virginia. It was due to be loaded onto a foreign-flagged boxship for transport to China. Luckily for the shipowner, the batteries ignited while the container was still moving down the highway, before it reached the quay. 

"Field personnel should be on alert for these shipments and engage port stakeholders as appropriate to ensure compliance with all applicable standards and safe shipping conditions," the Coast Guard advised its marine inspectors. 

The IMDG Code contains required markings for damaged, defective or scrap batteries, along with specific packaging for safe shipment. Battery short-circuits can lead to thermal runaway, resulting in a dangerous release of flammable and toxic gas, followed by the possibility of a fire or explosion.