UK: While there have been no reported explosions or injuries involving dangerous counterfeit refrigerants in the last two years, one of the reefer industry’s leading insurance providers has warned against complacency.

During a period of about eight months in 2011 there were five documented reefer compressor explosions, in which three people were killed, and other minor incidents, such as smoking valves or flaming oil. The cause was established to be a counterfeit refrigerant, sold as R134a but containing a blend of chemicals including R40 (methyl chloride) often mixed with R22 and/or other refrigerants.

The dangerous counterfeits were thought to have originated in China where criminals took advantage of the high price of R134a. At the time R134a was selling in China at £8/kg. It has since dropped to around £2/kg today.

Despite this, TT Club, the container industry’s leading provider of insurance and related risk management services, warns that although there have been no documented explosions, counterfeit refrigerant containing methyl chloride has been found in other countries and on board ships.

According to the insurer, on a reefer container fleet of about 1.3 million units, there are in the region of five million pre-trip inspections per year and counterfeit gas is reported to have been discovered in about 5% of units tested.

Following the 2011 incidents, a number of shipping lines and container lessors, and some depots, have implemented testing regimes for reefers. Importantly, many depots have started testing refrigerant gas supplies prior to use. Testing of R134a in both reefer machinery and gas bottle supplies has revealed various contaminants, some not compatible with compressor lubricants or simply inefficient as refrigerants.