New Zealand’s largest car ferry operator, Interislander, say they are well prepared for an electric car fire.
With electric vehicle demand only growing in New Zealand and the risks of EV fires on full display following the Felicity Ace incident, Kiwi car ferries are as prepared as ever for the worst.
“The growing number of EVs and the risks associated with them is something KiwiRail has carefully considered,” Interislander Executive General Manager Walter Rushbrook told NZ Autocar.
The Felicity Ace cargo ship caught fire in the Atlantic Ocean on February 16.
Onboard were nearly 4000 brand-new Volkswagen cars, including several EVs, which complicated the fire as their lithium-ion batteries became almost impossible to extinguish.
Fire crews couldn’t isolate the EV batteries and attend to them with the necessary specialist equipment.
The vessel sunk a few days after the fire was finally put out.
Back home, demand for electric vehicles is on the up, primarily due to the global energy crisis and record fuel prices.
That presents a unique challenge for some of our largest car transport operators.
Interislander transports over 200,000 cars between the North and South Islands every year.
The percentage of those that are EVs are relatively small. But it is a figure expected to grow.
Rushbrook says the risk of EVs has been well mulled over.
“We have implemented several policy changes on board our fleet to mitigate risks caused by increasing number of EVs,” he said.
Ferry Masters can reject any EV they believe is unsafe to carry. On top of this, charging EVs onboard is prohibited.
Rushbrook says saving the cargo is not a top concern if fires do break out.
“The safety of our passengers and crew is our first priority,” he said.
Still, Rushbrook says several measures are in place to reduce the risk posed by EV fires.
Specialist firefighter equipment is fixed on all three Interislander ferries. Drencher systems, CO2 smothering systems, fixed water cannons, and water curtains will maintain an EV fire.
Ferries and terminals have fire blankets specifically designed for EV fires.
Interislander’s owner, KiwiRail, is in the process of replacing its existing trio of ferries with two new rail-enabled ferries.
The first is arriving in 2025, which Rushbrook says gives the company ample time to update their EV safety protocols for the new vessel.
Rushbrook said “detailed consideration” to being given to the idea of having onboard EV charging for the new ferries.
The fire risk of Hydrogen-powered vehicles is also being reviewed by KiwiRail should they start to operate on New Zealand roads.
NZ Autocar reached out to StraitNZ (Bluebridge) and SeaLink to learn about their EV fire prevention systems. Neither replied.