NTSB reports on 2020 Jacksonville car carrier fire

Written by Nick Blenkey
Car carrier on fire in Jacksonville

[U.S. Coast Guard photo by Petty Officer 2nd Class Jessica Maldonado Gonzalez]

The cause of fire that broke out aboard the vehicle carrier Höegh Xiamen at the Blount Island Horizon Terminal, Jacksonville, Fla., has been determined, according to the National Transportation Safety Board.

An electrical fault from an improperly disconnected battery in a used vehicle was the probable cause of June 2020 fire.

Jacksonville Fire and Rescue Department responded to help fight the fire. Nine firefighters sustained injuries while responding. None of the vessel’s 21 crewmembers were injured. The fire took over a week to extinguish. The Höegh Xiamen and its cargo of 2,420 used vehicles were declared a total loss valued at $40 million. In August 2020, after salvage operations were completed, the vessel was towed to Turkey to be recycled.

According to the NTSB Marine Accident report on the incident, the crew noticed smoke coming from the ventilation housing while preparing to depart port for Baltimore, Maryland. Crewmembers discovered a fire on deck 8, which had been loaded with used vehicles. The fire eventually spread to other decks and continued to burn for eight days.


The NTSB concluded many of the vehicles loaded onto the vessel had batteries that were not disconnected and secured in accordance with procedures, which increased the risk of electrical arcing and component faults. During loading operations, both the loading personnel and crew missed opportunities to address these hazards.

The investigation showed that the detection of the fire was delayed because the vessels’ fire detection systems had not yet been reactivated after loading was completed. Additionally, the Jacksonville Fire and Rescue Department’s response to the accident was delayed because the Höegh Xiamen’s master did not immediately have available contact information for search and rescue authorities and did not know how to report a fire to local authorities.

The NTSB determined the probable cause of the fire aboard the Höegh Xiamen was ineffective oversight of longshoremen by time charterer Grimaldi Deep Sea and its contractor for stevedore services, SSA Atlantic. As a result, Grimaldi’s vehicle battery securement procedures were not being followed.


There had been five similar accidents since 2015, including a 2019 fire aboard Grimaldi’s Grande Europa. Following Grimaldi’s experience with previous roll-on/roll-off vessel fires, the company developed a battery disconnect procedure to reduce the risk of vehicle fires during transportation.

The Coast Guard’s postaccident examination of a sample of 59 vehicles did not find a single battery that was secured in accordance with Grimaldi’s battery disconnect procedure.

Failure to follow the battery disconnect procedure on the Hoegh Xiamen
resulted in an electrical fault from an improperly disconnected battery in a used vehicle on cargo deck 8.

Contributing to the delay in the detection of the fire was the crew not immediately reactivating the vessel’s fire detection system after the completion of loading. Contributing to the extent of the fire was the master’s decision to delay the release of the carbon dioxide fixed fire extinguishing system.

Download the NTSB report.

Categories: News, Safety and Security, Shipping Tags: , , , , ,