Illegal lead battery transport poses fire risk on Baltic ferries
Old car batteries are stolen from collection points around Finland
Transport of used lead acid batteries poses a fire safety risk in ferry transport between Helsinki and Tallinn, says the Finnish Customs Service.
Finnish Maritime Customs found the first illegal battery consignments last year. This year 22 vehicles have been seized while being used for transporting old and at times leaking lead batteries without the proper precautions and licences.
All of the vehicles that were stopped were trying to get on car/passenger ferries to Tallinn.
Old batteries are taken illegally from Finland to the Baltic countries for the valuable metals that they contain.
The drivers are usually Latvian, Lithuanian, or Estonian, says customs inspector Teemu Koskela of the crime-fighting unit of the Southern Customs District.
The batteries are stolen from recycling collection-points in different parts of the country. Police say that the activity is the work of professionals, and that Sweden and Norway face the same problems.
Officials believe that the batteries are sometimes given or sold to unauthorised drivers.
According to Henrik Carlsson, CEO of Akkukierrätys Pb, Finland’s largest car battery recycling company, the thefts have led to setting up the collection-points indoors, or behind locked gates and fences.
The company has 650 collection-points around Finland.
Carlsson says that thefts started occurring a couple of years ago when the world market price of lead began to rise.
“It is undoubtedly an annoyance, but nevertheless only a fraction of the batteries end up in illegal transport”, Carlsson says.
The Customs Service says that the illicit transport carries many kinds of risks. Illegal loads of batteries are dangerous if collisions occur, because the batteries are heavy, and the loads have not been secured.
Old batteries can also cause leaks of acid and hydrogen.
A risk of fire arises when the poles of the batteries are not protected properly, and the battery acid is not removed.
One dangerous situation occurred in May when a truck en route to a passenger ship caught fire on the Inner Ring Road in Espoo because of a load of batteries.
The West Uusimaa Police are investigating the case.
“Anyone can imagine what would have happened if the fire had taken place on the vessel itself”, says Petri Erkkilä, head of inspection at Maritime Customs.
Erkkilä says that the problem is that Customs officials are able to inspect departing traffic only sporadically.
The Customs has also warned shipping lines of the phenomenon.
The Finnish Transport Safety Agency (TraFi) says that the ships are legally obliged to hold regular exercises in case of fires, and ferry car decks have cameras, smoke detectors, and automatic sprinklers.
Most recently, the issue was highlighted when fire broke out on a car/passenger ferry during the weekend, on the Lisco Gloria while she was en route from Germany to Lithuania.
All of the 204 passengers and 32 crew members were rescued, but about 20 people suffered from smoke inhalation.
Ascertaining the exact cause of the fire could take several weeks, but initial theories are that the blaze that gutted the vessel started in a truck trailer on the open car deck.