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Officials Probing Cause of California Boat Fire that Killed 34 Passengers

Posted on 9/16/2019 by Lauren Scott

Two weeks after a boat fire that killed 34 people and sank the vessel, questions are circulating about whether a phone charging station below deck may have been the source of the blaze.

Just before dawn on Labor Day, a diving boat caught fire off the coast of Santa Cruz Island, California. The fire moved so fast that it blocked off two exits below deck. Only the captain and four crew members escaped.

One surviving crew member believes the fire may have started in the galley, where cellphones and cameras were plugged in to charge overnight. His statement is now being investigated by the National Transportation Safety Board, US Coast Guard, and other Federal and State agencies as the day-to-day operations of the boat, the Conception, come under intense scrutiny. 


On September 10, the Coast Guard issued a safety bulletin to owners, operators, and masters of passenger vessels to reevaluate their safety procedures.

Most notably, the Coast Guard recommends limits on unsupervised charging of lithium-ion batteries and extensive use of powerstrips and extension cords.

While maritime officials have yet to determine the cause of the blaze, this may signal lithium batteries in phones and cameras played a significant role.

How Dangerous Are Lithium Batteries?

Lithium batteries have raised concerns for consumers, shippers, and safety officials alike over the last decade. Last month, the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) announced a ban on some MacBook Pros over defective lithium batteries prone to overheating. Even as recent as Sept. 12, lithium batteries came under fire when a “lithium-ion incident” caused Lufthansa Cargo to blacklist a Chinese vape shipper.

Transportation incidents involving lithium batteries are very rare; there are only two to three battery accidents per one million batteries. However, when an event does occur, it can be extremely dangerous.

The most common hazard associated with lithium batteries is fire. This may be the result of a poorly manufactured battery or an internal short circuit, but it could also come from any type of mechanical damage (such as dropping or crushing a battery).

When a battery is faulty, it can lead to a hazard cycle known as “thermal runaway.” If a battery begins to overheat beyond what can be vented off, it will increase the temperature inside the cell. As the temperature increases, so does the current. Then the current increase speeds up the chemical reaction rate, producing more heat in the process. This starts the cycle over again, creating a snowball effect.

As the temperature and internal pressure build within, the battery can “explode” and vent its contents, potentially causing any nearby batteries to go into thermal runaway as well. If there are many batteries being stored together, you could have an entire pallet or storage area with batteries going into thermal runaway.

Online Lithium Battery Shipper Training

Full hazmat training to ship lithium batteries by ground, air, or vessel is now available online, so you can save, keep, and refer back to crucial resources from the training when you need them. Meet US DOT, IATA DGR, and IMDG Code DG training requirements and build the knowledge and skills to keep your shipments in compliance.

Shipping Lithium Batteries Online Course

Train online anytime and benefit from exercises and interactive learning tools that help you retain what you learn. Build in-depth expertise on how to class, package, mark, label, loading, unload, and document lithium battery ground, air, and vessel shipments.

Tags: battery, battery fire, boat, Coast Guard, fire, lithium battery, National Transportation Safety Board, NTSB

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