Reefers under pressure

Reefer capacity on the containership fleet is expected to increase by 22% over the next five years, according to Drewry.

Reefer box capacity is expected to grow from 1.6mfeu slots in 2013 to 1.9m slots by 2018, the UK-based consultancy predicts.

However, Drewry says this fleet growth is not expected to adversely impact vessel utilisation levels thanks to strong cargo growth.

Reefer container volumes are forecast to rise by 20.5mt over this period, 16.5mt by organic growth and 4mt at the expense of the shrinking specialised reefer industry.

Drewry says that overall seaborne perishable reefer trade will increase by 17% between 2013 and 2018, providing an additional 16.5mt of cargo.

“As a result of the expected cargo growth, reefer container slot utilisation levels will be unchanged in 2015 and only marginally lower thereafter,” says Drewry.

“Meanwhile, the specialised reefer sector is forecast to shrink further as a result of scrapping and a virtually empty order book.”

Drewry said it is worth noting that although the specialised reefer fleet provided little more than 7% of overall reefer capacity, it carried almost 28% of the estimated perishable reefer cargo in 2013.

“The specialised reefer operators peaked some years ago, in terms of cargo volumes, and now face continued falling volumes and market shares,” Drewry says.

“However, this does not necessarily affect their profitability. In fact, from the limited number of public companies reporting financial returns, profitability is indeed achievable.

“Specialised reefer companies are now looking to reinvent themselves to protect their undoubted expertise in their field.”

Drewry estimates that the worldwide seaborne perishable reefer trade rose at an annual rate of 3.2% in the 10 years to 2013, reaching 98mt last year.

Sectors driving this growth have been meat and exotic fruit, with the latter rising as much as 9.3% each year over the period.

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