Nov 112011

Reefers: Are they gassed right?

Further information regarding explosions in refrigerator container compressors due to contaminated or counterfeit gases introduced during maintenance has emerged implicating shipyards in Cat Lai, Vietnam. Three people have died during explosions involving affected compressor units, leading to quarantine of more than a thousand such units.

Affected units appear to have undergone maintenance in Vietnam since January 2011.

Maersk Line has  grounded 844 refrigerated containers following three serious accidents in 2011. Says the company: “Safe operations have been restored and we believe we have isolated the root cause of the problem”.

Of the 230,000 total reefer containers in the Maersk Line fleet, 844 have been grounded 844 under suspicion that thay may contain contaminated coolant fluid. Refrigerated containers exploded on three separate occasions this year in Itajai, Brazil and Cat Lai, Vietnam. Maersk Line is working with APM Terminals to investigate the causes of these incidents.

Says Maersk: “We identified that the malfunctioning containers underwent gas system repairs and maintenance at the same repair yard in Vietnam between 30 March 2011 and 25 April 2011. Early investigations appear to confirm suspicions that the cause of the explosions was contaminated gas in the cooling units.

“It is our belief that there may be a link between these and various similar incidents experienced by other container lines  at other repair yards in Vietnam”.

As a result Maersk Line informed the World Shipping Council of its suspicions on 18 October 2011 and urged the council to ask all members to immediately share all information about any similar incidents.

CMA CGM, which also suffered a container explosion has pulled 82 boxes from service and is checking a further 250 containers that had undergone maintenance in Vietnam since January 2011.

APL has removed 103 containers from service and restricted where all its containers can go for maintenance and repair.

The Pacific Maritime Association, which negotiates and administers maritime labor agreements with the International Longshore and Warehouse Union on behalf of cargo carriers, terminal operators and stevedores operating at West Coast ports,says: “All indications point to maintenance work conducted on refrigerated units processed at the Port of Cat Lai in Vietnam. As a precaution, all refrigerated containers that were either transported through or originated in any port in Vietnam are being identified upon arrival at West Coast ports in the United States and those that have been worked on in Cat Lai isolated for special handling”.

Reefer provider Carrier Transcold has warned it’s authorised service providers: “To date, there have been four units that have experienced compressor ruptures with three fatalities, and one unit where the refrigerant reportedly spontaneously combusted when exposed to air. While no
definitive cause of these incidents has been determined yet, Maersk, CMA/CGM, Hapag-Lloyd and others have identified at least 900 refrigeration units that they suspect may contain contaminated refrigerant and have quarantined those units. While not yet confirmed, it is our understanding at this time that the quarantined units may have received contaminated refrigerant during refrigeration system work performed in Vietnam since the beginning of 2011… We recommend that you do not perform any work on reefers until the reefer owner or lessee can provide you with service records verifying the reefer did not have any refrigeration system service work completed in Vietnam during 2011”.

Following a meeting in Vietnam with shipping lines Ngo Minh Thuan, deputy director general of Saigon Newport Corporation said: “Some terminals in the worlds refuse the reefer containers from Vietnam or request the shipping lines to re-charge the refrigerant of the reefers from Vietnam. There are some assumptions that the explosions have been caused by the contaminated refrigerant re-charged from Vietnam which did
not meet the standard quality. This actual situation is negatively affecting the business of shipping lines, importers exporters and those who carry out the reefers services at the terminal….

“…SNP will continue the comprehensive cooperation with shipping lines to provide as well as find out and verify all the information, data, documents related to the repair process, PTI of the exploded reefer container.SNP will also actively speed up the competent government bodies and shipping lines to give out the final conclusion of the causes of the incidents for reefer containers”.

Among the measures taken is that from 1 November  SNP is the only authorised direct supplier of refrigerant “for all the items of M & R requiring the refrigerant serving for the reefer containers at SNP’s facilities”.

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