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Customs block trade in illegal refrigerant

NAIROBI: The United Nation Environment Programme reports that the illegal trade in more than 1,300 tonnes of ozone-depleting gases has been prevented over the last 18 months.

During the period of September 2012 to April 2014, custom officers around the world reported 134 successful seizures of 7,370 pieces of equipment (appliances and compressors) and 9,523 refrigerant cylinders/containers containing more than 467 tonnes of ozone-depleting chemicals and mixtures.

R22The illegal trade, much of it emanating from China, included smuggling, falsification of documents and unlicensed imports of HCFCs and HFCs.

In addition, the denial of trade licenses also avoided 67 unwanted/illegal shipments of more than 846 tonnes of ozone-depleting chemicals and mixtures.

The global trade in HCFCs in bulk amounts is currently estimated to be around 1 million tons per year. There are no exact figures on the magnitude of illegal trade, but in the 1990s, the illegal trade in CFCs was estimated to be 20,000 tons per year, worth some $150-300m and equivalent to over 12% of global CFC production.

Next week customs officers from countries including Albania, Belarus, Bosnia and Herzegovina, China, Cyprus, European Union, Georgia, Germany, India, Israel, Kyrgyzstan, Montenegro, Russia, Serbia, Spain, Tajikistan, Turkey, Ukraine and Uzbekistan will receive Ozone Protection Awards at a special meeting in Sarajevo.


During 2013, India’s Directorate of Revenue Intelligence (DRI) registered four cases of illegal imports from China and seized 241,463kg of R22.

On March 1, 2013, customs seized 182.9 tonnes of R22 which were stored in five ISO tanks as well as 354 empty disposable cylinders. The goods originated from China and imported by ship through the port of JNPT Nhava Sheva near Bombay and further on transported to an export factory in Gujarat State. Total fines and penalties amounted to nearly $23,000.

Indian customs seized 1,100 13.6kg cylinders of R22 from China through the port of Pipavav in July last year. The undeclared cylinders were hidden between furniture. The case has not yet come to court but further investigations revealed that the alleged accused had earlier imported 175,966kg of R22 by similar methods.

In May and June last year, Indian customs seized 1,702 13.6kg cylinders of R22, imported from China through the port of JNPT, Nhava Sheva near Bombay. The undeclared cylinders were hidden amongst the declared goods to avoid detection.

Malaysia was the source of 1,504 13.6kg cylinders of R22 seized by Indian customs at the same port in April 2013. The cylinders were hidden in two containers containing “A4 copier paper”.


In January this year, Russian authorities broke up a large-scale smuggling ring resulting in the seizure of over 1,500 refrigerant cylinders of various sizes, self-made reclamation and filling equipment, as well as documents, seals and labelling. In all, the haul included 6,800kg of R22, 2,040kg of R113, 4,080kg of  R12, 2,720kg of R141b and 18,800kg of R11. The shipment papers indicated ethylene-glycol instead of R11 and R134a instead of the other substances. (Russians bust refrigerant smuggling ring, Cooling Post, January 31, 2014)

In a separate incident, Russian customs officers in Nakhodka detected and seized a shipment of 25,850kg of R22 and R141b in 1,660 cylinders. The cylinders, mislabeled as R134a and R404A, originated from China and arrived in Russia via the port of Vostochny by ship. The colours of the cylinders did not match the internationally agreed colour codes.


On 16 November 2012, Chinese authorities seized 850 cylinders of R22 mislabelled as R134a in Ningbo. Each of the cylinders contained 13.6kg of R22.

In March 2013, again in Ningbo, Chinese authorities seized 184 refrigerant cylinders from a shipment bound for South Africa. The shipment papers indicated R410A but the cylinders actually contained 11.3kg of R12 mixed with R32.

R22 seized in last year's investigations in Spain
R22 seized in last year’s investigations in Spain

Last year, in the first large-scale operation of its type in Spain, authorities in Las Palmas, Tenerife and Zaragoza conducted a seven-month investigation with more than 60 police officers and involving 150,000kg of R22. The case was triggered by numerous suspicious cases of export licence applications involving very high amounts of R22 being delivered to ships of various flag states whereas such volumes were not observed in any other European port.

The R22 originated from China and was imported by ship into Spain legally but with the obligation to re-export the whole amount after re-packaging. Police raids in several companies on the Canary Islands revealed evidence that at least two companies in Las Palmas were involved in illegally diverting R22 to be re-exported into the European market. To this extend false export licence applications were made and higher exports were declared than actually performed. The surplus material was apparently sold illegally and partly declared as non-virgin to Spanish and Lithuanian companies. False information was also provided in licences to bypass controls.


In May last year, the discovery of drugs in a vehicle at the Kakavija border crossing in the southern part of Albania also uncovered 40 13.6kg cylinders of R22. The vehicle was bound for Greece.


In Limassol in October last year, Cypriot customs stopped a shipment of three air conditioning units from China as two units were indicated to contain R22. The third unit did not have any indication of the refrigerant used.

Despite the manufacturer claiming that the label was a mistake and that the units actually contained R410A, analysis revealed that the two units did indeed contain R22. The non-labeled unit contained R410A.

Then, in February this year, three R22 air conditioning units were discovered in a shipment by sea from Qatar.


Authorities in Uzbekistan were involved in a number of seizures of overland shipments at customs points last year.

In Tashkent in April, the inspection of a shipment of goods from the United Arab Emirates resulted in the discovery of 456.3kg of undeclared R22.

A similar inspection of a vehicle in the Fergana region revealed 136 cylinders labelled R12 and 150 cylinders labelled R22. There were no shipping documents or proof of origin. The cylinders were imported illegally through Kyrgyzstan by road transport.

A separate discovery in Fergana involved three refrigerant cylinders labelled R134a and 130 1kg refrigerant cans labelled R12. There were no shipping documents or proof of origin. The cylinders were imported illegally through Kyrgyzstan by road transport.

False labels
Customs officers in Hamburg found a number of cases of falsely labelled waste refrigerators. In this case the refrigerators carried stickers suggested that the compressors contained R600a (isobutane). On removing the stickers, however, customs officers found they actually contained the now banned CFC R12.

During a a drug trafficking inspection in Sirdaryo region, 70 refrigerators containing CFCs were discovered in two containers on a train transiting through Tajikistan and Kyrgyzstan before entering Uzbekistan. The refrigerators were not listed in the shipment documents and their country of origin is unknown.


In January of this year, a shipment of 70 13.6kg non-refillable cylinders and 100 1kg cans of R22 from the UAE arrived at Tbilisi customs without R22 import permits. Worryingly, while the 100 cans did indeed contain R22, analysis of the contents of the cylinders revealed an unidentified blend.


The Special Service for Environmental Affairs (WSP 21) within the waterways police of Hamburg is a department commissioned to investigate against all kind of offenses towards the environment. One main focus area is the control of illegal waste transports within the port of Hamburg. Every year numerous cases of attempted illegal exports of cooling appliances and compressors containing HCFCs as well as second-hand trucks equipped with refrigeration or air-conditioning units are detected and seized.

Between September 2012 and April 2014, German police discovered 105 instances of illegal waste transports within the port of Hamburg. Seizures included 715 refrigerators and air conditioning units, about 6,500 compressors and 52 second-hand trucks with refrigeration or air conditioning units. The main destinations were Nigeria, Burkina Faso, Ghana and Pakistan. Also in 2012, German authorities prevented numerous illegal shipments of appliances containing HCFCs, including 550 refrigerators, and initiated 118 investigations. In many cases, false labels were glued to the equipment indicating that they contained legal, non-ozone-depleting refrigerants.

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