Concern in Unalaska over Reefer Van Safety


Stephanie Joyce/KUCB

The Horizon Lines cargo terminal in Unalaska shutdown Sunday over worker concerns about potentially explosive refrigerated containers.
The International Longshore and Warehouse Union notified members up and down the West Coast last week that some refrigerated containers or "reefers" passing through there could be explosive. KUCB’s Stephanie Joyce has more.

I-L-W-U spokesperson Craig Merrilees (MERR-eh-lees) says the coolant in some reefers was contaminate d earlier this year during maintenance work in Vietnam.

15Reefer – 1 "And while nobody knows for sure what happened, it appears that this cut-rate operation may have used some dangerous chemicals in the process, maybe introducing them into the compressors. And the results has been some serious explosions, with some of the compressor units blowing up."

Horizon Lines is the local agent for Maersk, one of the affected shipping lines. In a press release issued last week, Maersk said the coolant in some of their refrigerated units had been linked to three separate explosions in 2011, all overseas.

Maersk took more than 800 containers out of circulation as a precaution, but local union president Doug Leggett says longshoremen weren’t satisfied with the response.

15Reefer – 2 "The union’s position was that we wanted to isolate anything that had potentially been serviced in Vietnam and I believe the employers’ initially wanted to only look at containers that had been at a particular facility over there."

Following the lead of workers in other West Coast ports, longshoremen in Unalaska refused to transport any Maersk reefers until Horizon provided maintenance records for the containers.

Union officials met with company representatives during a closed-door meeting yesterday afternoon to resolve the issue. Leggett says they agreed to isolate any containers that had refrigerant service done in Vietnam during the last year.

15Reefer – 3 "That gave us a definition of what to look for and we’ve been since then in the process of trying to identify these boxes and isolate them from the public and from ourselves, so we can eliminate the potential of having another incident."

According to Leggett, workers have identified approximately 60 "at-risk" containers in Unalaska and Akutan.

Half of those belong to American President Lines, another container export company in town. According to spokesperson Mike Zampa, APL hasn’t had any problems with its containers, but was cooperating with the union request as a precaution.

15Reefer – 4 [15s]"APL has grounded and isolated 34 refrigerated containers in Dutch Harbor. These are containers that had undergone maintenance inspections in Vietnam during 2011."

Zampa says APL will review the containers’ service records before proceeding.

Maersk representatives could not be reached for comment. Horizon Lines’ local terminal manager Bruce McConnell could only say that Horizon containers were not affected.

The local Coast Guard Marine Safety Detachment says they are not investigating the situation.


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