Older Reefer Vessels May Fall Short in Compliance with New Pollution Rules


Conventional reefer ships that played a critical role in shipping perishables during the pandemic could be forced into retirement by new International Maritime Organization (IMO) pollution regulations.

Dutch consultancy Dynamar says the carbon intensity indicator (CII) and energy efficiency of existing ships (EEXI) rules will force the ageing conventional fleet to slow to speeds that won't meet market requirements for perishable goods. Both new regulations came into force this month, but with relatively modest emission limitation requirements in the first year, they will become more rigorous in later years.

According to Dynamar's latest reefer market report, conventional reefer bulk vessels are "old and fuel-hungry", and it adds: "Their competitive advantage of being able to provide faster transit times, with their direct sailings [rather] than containership operators with their liner services and hub and spoke format, will be lost.

"Already, demolition is at a relatively high level and it is likely to rise even further."

Reefer container capacity was constrained during the pandemic, creating a lack of certainty required for goods whose market value can be all but lost after long delays. Reefer container rates rose less than the dry box market, and, with the complexities involved in handling reefer goods, many carriers preferred to carry dry cargo. And for conventional reefer operators, this was an opportunity.

"Due to a lack of container space, shippers were desperate for shipboard capacity and turned to reefer specialists happy to carry their boxes on deck or breakbulk cargo in their holds, at a premium, of course," said Dynamar.

According to Dynamar statistics, most containership operators are involved in reefer trades by having reefer plugs on their ships, but only ten cover the major north-south trades – down from 15 a decade ago – and of those, only five lines cover "almost all routes".

Dynamar reports 144 loops connecting southern hemisphere producers to northern consumers, down from 146 in 2021. However, the average capacity has fallen to 5,400 teu from 5,600 – but more concerning is that the average number of reefer plugs has declined to 700 from 860 in 2021.

And with some 3.5m teu in reefer capacity, mainly in 40ft high cubes, Dynamar says the reefer box fleet "does not keep pace with the number of available plugs on ships".

It said: "Assuming that for every reefer box on board there will be one on land, for every reefer plug there will only be approximately 0.65 teu of box capacity available. Therefore, the real carrying capacity (based on boxes) is substantially below the potential container-carrying capacity (based on plugs)," reports Dynamar.

According to significant perishables forwarder Easyfresh, the reefer industry faces challenges in 2023. It expects a high merger and acquisition activity in the cold chain logistics sector. The remaining logistics companies will invest in 'smart technology' to gain a competitive advantage. However, the implementation of intelligent tech will be advanced with an absence of labour as employee shortages persist into the year. Finally, volatility in the reefer goods market will challenge planning. Still, with the shipping sector now essentially free from congestion, the cargo flow should be more predictable through the seaborne supply chain, said Easyfresh.