Reefer capacity on the containership fleet is expected to increase by 22% over the next five years, at the expense of a declining specialized reefer fleet, according to Drewry’s latest Reefer Shipping Market Annual Review & Forecast.
Reefer box capacity is expected to grow from 1.6 million 40ft slots in 2013 to 1.9 million slots in 2018. However, this fleet growth is not expected to adversely impact vessel utilization levels thanks to strong cargo growth.
Reefer container volumes are forecast to rise by 20.5 million tons over this period, 16.5 million tons by organic growth and 4 million tons at the expense of the shrinking specialized reefer industry. Overall seaborne perishable reefer trade will increase by 17% between 2013 and 2018, providing an additional 16.5 million tons of cargo.
“As a result of the expected cargo growth, reefer container slot utilization levels will be unchanged in 2015 and only marginally lower thereafter,” said Kevin Harding, the report editor. “Meanwhile, the specialized reefer sector is forecast to shrink further as a result of scrapping and a virtually empty order book.”
The specialized sector’s continuing market share decline was reinforced by leading operator Seatrade’s recent order for two 500 feu container vessels. However, it is worth noting that although the specialized reefer fleet provided little more than 7% of overall reefer capacity, it carried almost 28% of the estimated perishable reefer cargo in 2013.
“The specialized reefer operators peaked some years ago, in terms of cargo volumes, and now face continued falling volumes and market shares,” remarked Harding. “However, this does not necessarily affect their profitability. In fact, from the limited number of public companies reporting financial returns, profitability is indeed achievable. Specialized 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 98 million tonnes 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.