Japanese Containers Test Positive for Radiation on Arrival in Rotterdam

Maud van Gaal and Alaric Nightingale – Bloomberg May 10, 2011

Dutch authorities have found traces of radiation on 19 containers originating from Japan, two months after an earthquake and tsunami there caused leaks from the Fukushima Dai-Ichi nuclear plant.

Five of the containers, scanned on arrival at the Port of Rotterdam, were quarantined because the level of contamination was above the permissible threshold, the Dutch Food and Consumer Product Safety Authority said on its website today. The other 14 boxes were cleared after further inspection, it said.

“Whether this is an exceptional incident with a low impact is difficult to say,” said Philip Damas, an analyst at Drewry Shipping Consultants Ltd. in London. “You can get a bit carried away into a panic mode when really it’s a one-off.”

Scans of the ship’s superstructure at sea failed to reveal contamination, which was detected when the containers were screened in Rotterdam, Europe’s biggest port, before being offloaded, said Marian Bestelink, a spokeswoman for the Dutch food authority. Further checks showed goods inside one of the five irradiated containers to be untainted, and they were released, while the other four are undergoing checks, she said.

Washed Down

Ports worldwide have tightened checks on ships that left Japan after the March 11 temblor. The journey time to Europe is about 30 days, and containers from the Asian nation will be scanned for radiation “for as long as is necessary,” the food authority, which is based in The Hague, said in a statement.

The quarantined containers will be washed down and released to their owners once further scans show that radiation has fallen to safe levels, the group said.

A.P. Moeller-Maersk A/S, the world’s largest container line, said it’s too early to comment on the significance of the Dutch discovery. The Copenhagen-based company had a box quarantined in Belgium last week even though traces of radiation were not harmful, spokesman Michael Storgaard by telephone.

Japan handled about 4 percent of the world’s containers prior to the disaster and almost 20 percent of the global fleet by box capacity was timetabled to call there, Clarkson Plc, the world’s biggest shipbroker, has said.

In the aftermath of the tsunami, five of the six largest container shipping lines maintained calls to Tokyo Bay, a decision mirrored by owners of oil tankers and bulk transports.

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