Explosive container danger halts Port of Oakland

October 31, 2011 11:56:58 PM PDT
Dock workers at the Port of Oakland refused to unload ships that are loaded with what they call explosive contents. At least two terminals at the port were closed Monday night because of the threat. It is an extra challenge for the port already preparing a possible blockade by Occupy Oakland on Wednesday and the backup is extensive.

The longshoreman are refusing to move any containers at certain terminals because they say refrigerated containers that were improperly serviced in Vietnam have already exploded in Vietnam, China, and Brazil. Some of those containers have been found in Oakland and other West Coast ports.

Photos were taken in Vietnam of one of the five refrigerated containers that exploded at a port there last Friday. Three dock workers were killed and 16 were injured. An Oakland longshoreman got hold of the photos, but fears losing his job if he speaks on camera. He learned that some of the same types of containers had arrived here in Oakland Monday morning.

The longshoreman said, "At 8 o'clock this morning we got the word that the containers that were over at SSA were actually some of the containers that were on the list that weren't supposed to get here."

There was a list of refrigerated containers that had been serviced in Vietnam with an unstable form of freon according to the longshoreman's union. They say that's why they exploded.

"They have apparently taken at least three lives and may have injured many more people," said ILWU spokesperson Craig Merrilees.

They were supposed to be taken out before coming to the U.S. The ILWU says they were not and thousands of them are either in ports or out on the water.

"There are potentially thousands of containers being shipped around the world, some that have ended up on docks here in Oakland, they're potentially lethal," said Merrilees.

There are also reports of refrigerated containers exploding in China and Brazil since Thursday. Hundreds of longshoremen on Monday refused to unload any ships or move any containers until those improperly serviced in Vietnam are removed.

"I think we know that at least two terminals, both the SSA and TraPac terminal have been shut down," said Merrilees.

The longshoreman who wanted to remain anonymous said, "Until we get it resolved were not going to work."

If the longshoremen don't work, neither do the truckers. With the terminals closed dozens of trucks line the roads of the port unable to load or unload.

A trucker ABC7 spoke to also wanted anonymity. He said, "I was supposed to turn in my empty containers in and then take loads out and I couldn't do anything." When asked how long he had been there stuck in line, he said, "All day."

So far the U.S. Coast Guard has isolated at least 13 of these problem containers, but they're looking at the same issue in Tacoma, Washington, Portland, Oregon, and in Long Beach.

The Pacific Maritime Association, the longshoreman's union and the shippers are all trying to get together to work this issue out and get the cargo moving.


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