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Handheld Radio Battery Fire Causes Millions in Damage

The oil tanker's navigation, communication and alarm systems were damaged beyond repair.

On November 13, 2022, at about 3:30 pm, a fire broke out on the bridge of the S-Trust, an oil tanker that was docked in Baton Rouge. While no one was injured, the accident caused some $3 million in damage.

According to the NTSB, the fire was traced to the thermal runaway of a cell in an ultra-high-frequency handheld radio's lithium-ion battery.

The batteries and chargers for the radios were placed on a communications table on the bridge. Luckily, the vessel's crew was able to extinguish the fire before it spread, but the S-Trust's navigation, communication and alarm systems were damaged beyond repair. 

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Photos from the vessel's closed-circuit camera also showed a second explosion that sent an object, likely the lithium cell, into the air, which landed on the floor still on fire. 

Lithium-ion battery cell explosions are often caused by a thermal runaway, a chemical reaction that can cause the cell to ignite and explode. A lithium-ion battery cell can spontaneously experience a thermal runaway if damaged, shorted, overheated, defective or overcharged, according to the NTSB. 

To prevent thermal runaways, the NTSB stresses the importance of following the manufacturers' instructions for battery care and maintenance, properly disposing of damaged batteries, avoiding unsupervised charging, and keeping batteries and chargers away from heat sources and flammable materials.

The S-Trust is a Liberian-flagged, 800-foot-long oil tanker owned by New Trend and operated by Stalwart Management. The vessel was in the process of offloading some 464,926 barrels of high-sulfur fuel oil.

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