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2 November 2011

Contaminated refrigerant is suspected in reefer explosions

A NUMBER of explosions and at least three fatalities has led to hundreds of refrigerated containers around the world being grounded, according to reports. The causes of the explosions are under investigation but are thought to have been caused by contaminated or incorrect refrigerant being added to the refrigeration system while under service in Vietnam.
Maersk Line raised the alarm when it informed the World Shipping Council of incidents with four of its reefer containers, which potentially had a contaminated gas system. Three of these reefer units had exploded and there had been three fatalities, the most recent being an engineer working on a unit in Brazil.

The company subsequently grounded approximately 800 reefers while investigations were being carried out.

'We have not been able to identify the exact cause of the incidents,' says the company statement, 'but we have noted that the units involved have had a gas repair in Vietnam between late March and late April. While it is still too early to conclude, we suspect that during these repairs the gas system may have been contaminated and that this contamination could cause the issues we have seen.'

Speculation is rife over the cause but many suspect the introduction of contaminated or otherwise unsuitable refrigerant into the system, causing a chemical reaction when it comes into contact with R134a, oil or air, and creating a flammable/explosive mixture.

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