Seaborne trade in perishable refrigerated commodities, grew at an annual rate of 3.9 percent - from 36.4 million tons in 2001 to 90.9 million tons in 2011, said Drewry Maritime Research.
Drewry forecasts continued growth in perishable reefer cargo for 2012, and said "beyond that, population growth levels and GDP levels will see trade
increase at an average rate of over 4 percent a year to 2016."
London-based Drewry, which has just released its annual Reefer Shipping Market Review and Forecast
, said in terms of tonnage, the highest growth has been in the meat category which grew from 21.4 million tons in 2001 to 35.9 million tons in 2011.
Worldwide trade of bananas and plantains has grown from 13.2 million tons in 2001 to 15.7 million tons. Following three successive years of declining volume, the banana trade increased by almost 10 percent in 2011.
Drewry said the fleet of specialized breakbulk reefer ships has shrunk by 234 vessels with 81 million cubic feet of capacity in the last 10 years. Much of the trade has moved into containers. During 2010 and 2011 a total of 77 vessels with 28.2 million cubic feet of capacity were scrapped.
"As of mid-2012 a further 42 vessels have been added to that list and by year end it is forecasted that scrapping levels will have exceeded the record levels set in 1993 and 1999. Meanwhile the orderbook is currently empty for the specialized reefer fleet," Drewry said.
In contrast, it said refrigerated container fleet growth hit a record 13 percent during 2011 and ended the year at 2,048,00 TEUs. This was almost double the 6.6 percent increase achieved in 2010 and is, in fact, one of the highest rates of annual growth ever reported for the reefer box sector.
"The two fleets are moving in opposite directions and it is impossible to see this changing significantly but it may not be all bad news for the specialized reefer industry," Drewry said. "The containership operators are becoming more vocal in their need to increase reefer rates. As supply and demand shifts, time charter rates will once again start to increase. Survival in the specialized reefer industry appears to be achievable for the moment, based on its distinct advantages, expertise and service."
Last month, Soren Skou, chief executive officer of Maersk Line, said
his company plans to hike reefer rates by roughly 30 percent, a global average of $1,500 per 40-foot container, on Jan 1, 2013, adding the increase is needed because of stagnating reefer rates despite growing costs related reefer container construction and service operations. - Chris Dupin