Refrigerator ships have long been some of the most graceful ships at sea, but their future is in doubt as container carriers continue to nibble away at their base cargo of fresh fruit and produce. Container lines, such as Denmark’s Maersk, has been introducing more refrigerated capacity on the important north-south routes that have long been the traditional routes for reefer vessels.
This has seen even bananas, one of the perishable products that has been the slowest to move to containers, now being containerised. To counter the trend, refrigerator ship operators such as Alpha Reefer Transport and the Seatrade Group are pooling their vessels for more efficiency, with the company’s new Hamburg Reefer Pool to begin operations in May.
At startup the pool will consist of 80 vessels offering between 140,000ft3 and 356,000ft3 of capacity. However, refrigerator ships are also being steadily scrapped, with 19 vessels of a combined 9,700,000ft3 of capacity going to the breakers last year. At the same time, only 12 new reefer ships are being built, representing just 2.5 per cent of the current fleet of 1,826 refrigerator vessels worldwide, while around ten per cent of the approximately 800 ships of more than 100,000ft3 capacity are currently laid up due to lack of work.