While, according to reports on the shipping industry, reefers are under pressure, Yntze Buitenwerf of Seatrade knows better. “It’s all about how you look at the figures. It’s correct that the number of reefers is decreasing, but the same amount of volume was transported with reefers.” The CEO talks about the developments in this part of the shipping business, and the line’s construction plans.
“The reefers are only a small segment within the maritime world, and have had a reasonably good year compared to the other sectors,” Yntze says. “There is enough fruit, meat and fish for us to ship.” In general, the fleet of cooler and freezer vessels is outdated. Since the 2008 crisis, only six new reefers were launched. “Seatrade only built two new ships,” Yntze goes on. “We did put in an order for four new ships now.” These are reefer container ships, a combination between the quality of the classic reefer, and the compatibility of a container ship.
“On the last generation of reefer ships, we could store 50 percent of the cargo in containers on deck. The rest was below deck in the holds,” Yntze explains. That will change with the new ships. They will only get room for reefer containers, below deck as well. Seatrade sees a shift in the market: Ports are equipped more for processing containers, and other logistics service providers are focusing more on this as well.
Reefers not in trouble
Reports on the shipping business speak of a decreasing importance of the reefers due to an outdated fleet and few orders, but Yntze puts that into perspective. According to forecasts, about 103 to 104 million tonnes of fresh produce is transported by sea. Around 26 to 27 million tonnes of that is shipped by specialized shipping lines. In the year 2000, 62 million tonnes was shipped, and specialized shipping lines had 45 percent of the market in hands. “In absolute figures, that’s about 29 million tonnes. That means we now ship 2 million tonnes less a year, while the total reefer fleet shrank by 40 percent. In other words, the current reefer fleet is deployed very effectively.”
Shelf life and draught
“Of all the fruit transported overseas, in practice 40 percent isn’t consumed due to problems with shelf life. Based on transport costs, we may be a bit more expensive than the container shippers, but because of the speed, the product’s shelf life is better,” Yntze says. “All our services are based on the FDD (Fast, Direct and Dedicated) principle, ensuring that unnecessary waste of food is greatly reduced.”
Finally, the draught of the big container vessels is often a limitation. Ports in Latin America, for instance, can handle ships with a maximum draught of 9 to 9.5 metres. “The sea giants sometimes draw 14 metres,” Yntze says. “It’s a whole other world in which the big boys operate. You really can’t compare container shipping with the reefers. It’s a totally different concept.”