A U.S. West Coast arbitrator, moving to settle a dispute that has disrupted cargo handling at some ports, on Wednesday set a uniform protocol for handling potentially dangerous refrigerated containers that have passed through Vietnam.
The arbitration should settle differences between terminal operators and the International Longshore and Warehouse Union that arose over the past week that resulted in job actions in Oakland and Seattle.
Longshoremen demanded transit documentation on all reefer containers that had transited Vietnam after learning containers serviced at the Vietnamese port of Kat Lai had exploded in separate incidents this spring, killing two workers in Vietnam and one in Brazil.
Some terminals were unable to produce the requested documentation, and longshoremen refused to work at those facilities.
After a seven-hour hearing, the coast arbitrator defined an “at-risk” reefer container as one that had transited Vietnam this year and had non-electric/PLC maintenance or service work performed in Vietnam.
Reefer containers that fit that description must be considered potentially lethal and must be dealt with according to special handling protocols. Employers must provide a complete disclosure of the reefer’s transit history since the beginning of the year and must isolate the at-risk reefers.
It is uncertain how many such containers are present today in the global supply chain, although a national organization of equipment owners known as OCEMA is gathering data and is expected to come up with a comprehensive list.
“We have worked tirelessly since mid-October to address this problem, and we are reassured that the arbitrator has chosen to err on the side of caution, which we think will save lives, as we determine how to resolve this very dangerous situation,” said Robert McEllrath, ILWU international president.
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