Waterfront employers are working with the International Longshore and Warehouse Union to identify and isolate at-risk refrigerated containers arriving at West Coast ports from Vietnam.
In recent months, four reefer containers exploded or caught on fire, resulting in two deaths in Vietnam and one on Brazil.
“All indications point to maintenance work conducted on refrigerated units processed at the Port of Kat Lai in Vietnam,” the Pacific Maritime Association, which represents terminal operators and shipping lines, said in a statement.
The ILWU in the past few days refused to work vessels at two terminals in Oakland and a terminal in Seattle. The ILWU demanded a complete history of the containers on the vessel, but employers offered information only on those containers that had been in Vietnam.
In a statement Tuesday, the ILWU said it is taking steps to segregate potentially faulty containers and prevent them from leaving the terminals. “It’s impossible to know which containers might pose deadly combustion hazards just by looking at them,” said Leal Sundet, representative of the ILWU’s Coast Longshore Division.
He said the ILWU has offered to transload cargo from potentially dangerous containers before they leave the terminals.
The PMA said it is working with ILWU locals at West Coast ports on agreements that will protect workers while keeping ports operating. An agreement was reached in Los Angeles-Long Beach, and the PMA said it is working on similar agreements with ILWU locals in Oakland, Seattle and Tacoma to develop.
All refrigerated containers that have passed through any port in Vietnam are being identified on arrival at West Coast ports. Those reefer containers that have been worked on in Kat Lai are isolated for special handling, the PMA said.