Update on Refrigerant Contamination Issue at COA Conference, Soul June 12-13

In the latest Container Owners Association Conference held in Soul, Korea on June 12-13, delegates heard an update on the refrigerant contamination crisis that has affected the global container market so dramatically. The following excerpt was released by the COA:

"It is clear that there is a much better understanding of the issues facing the industry now, than there was even 3 months ago; and more clarity of ways in which these issues can be addressed. The Conference Session included an update on the current situation and what progress has been made; an update from refrigeration machinery manufacturer Carrier Transicold; descriptions from Seaco International and Pinnacle Corp on the latest refrigerant test methods; and a review of laboratory test data.
Delegates attending the conference included many shipping lines from East Asia and other regions, service depots, leasing companies, representatives of the longshoreman’s ILWU union from the US West Coast and the Pacific Maritime Association. In addition to the Session which took place on the first afternoon of the Conference, delegates were taken by bus the following day to visit a depot for demonstrations of methods to test samples of refrigerant gas. Both days were well attended.
In reviewing the Conference Presentations, the questions from delegates during the Session, together with feedback from informal discussions outside the Conference Session, some of the
key points of the Meeting can be summarized as follows:
  • There have been around 2.5 million reefer PTIs in 2012 so far with no reported ‘incidents’
  • Test methods are being widely used that can be performed at low risk to service personnel which identify the quality of gas in supply bottles and reefer systems.
  • Samples tested from several thousand reefer machines in 2012 have found organic ‘chloride’ contamination in about 15 percent of units. R40 has been found in about 6
  • percent of units serviced in Vietnam in 2011 and in about 1 percent of units not serviced in Vietnam.
  • ”High risk” units remain as the 1181 units identified as being serviced at two specific terminals in Ho Chi Minh, Vietnam from January to September 2011.
  • The 1181 high risk units are isolated, are now being tested and appropriate service action will take place to render them safe.
  • Compressors dismantled with R40 contamination have been found with no signs of wear or deterioration.
  • R40 contamination in 2012 is mostly being found mixed with HCFC refrigerants. The lack of any ‘incidents’ in 2012 suggests that the combination of HCFCs with R40 may be inhibiting dangerous reactions taking place in the system - but this is not yet proven.
  • Given the widespread global availability of counterfeit refrigerants, the need for testing all gas service cylinders before use will be essential to eliminate supply.
  • Test methods are being widely used that can be performed at low risk to service personnel which identify the quality of gas in supply bottles and reefer systems.
  • Vigilance in testing gas service cylinders prior to use is the only way to prevent dangerous gas mixtures being used again in refrigerated containers.
  • There was an interest by some parties for the issue of reefers being quarantined on the US West Coast to be resolved and it seems likely that many quarantined units are not on the list of “high risk” units and that testing samples from them could clarify this.
  • The COA is evaluating the possibility of creating a global register of reefer service depots with a view to them seeking accreditation for following good practice in the management of refrigerant gas cylinder quality. Operators could then choose to use depots recognized in following safe practices and collectively assist in the audit of this process."