Container shipping lines are expected to take an 85% share of the perishable reefer cargo market by 2021 as their supremacy over specialised reefer operators grows, according to Drewry.
In 2016, the estimated perishable reefer cargo split was 79% in reefer containerships and 21%.
By 2021, the consultancy estimates that seaborne reefer cargo will exceed 134m tonnes, increasing by an average of 2.8% per annum.
“The resilience of the industry to adverse economic, commercial and even climatic conditions has been demonstrated once again as seaborne perishable reefer trade increased in 2016 and is forecast to grow further still in 2017,” said a statement from Drewry.
Despite future seaborne cargo growth levels being lower than those of the last decade (3.3%), such increases will have a significant effect on container lines with reefer capacity, it noted.
Based on the confirmed orderbook of almost 400 container ships with reefer capacity, Drewry estimates that “reefer utilisation will remain broadly stable as a result of the increased seaborne cargo volumes and rising market share for the reefer containership mode.”
The analyst pointed out that the specialised reefer fleet is punching well above its weight although it expects to see it lose cargo volumes over the coming years.
Currently, the specialised reefer fleet provides around 5% of overall reefer capacity yet carries almost 21% of total seaborne perishable reefer cargo.
One specific cause for concern is the potential lack of reefer container equipment, which has already led to shortages in Europe and Brazil.