Maersk eyes transatlantic shellfish trade
Maersk is to return to the Canadian port of Halifax following the development of new technology that allows shellfish to be transported live in sea freight containers.
Maersk will include Halifax as the last port call in North America on the TA4 service that links Montreal with Bremerhaven and Rotterdam, after the line and Danish firm Aqualife successfully trialled the transatlantic transport of lobsters in the tanks loaded in specially-designed reefer containers.
Thomas Eseksen, the Maersk director responsible for its global refrigerated business, said the development of purpose-built shellfish handling facility in the Dutch town of Urk, a centre for the country"s seafood industry and home to a major fish auction, was the catalyst for the launch of the weekly container service that will look to capture of slice of the 15,000 tonnes of lobsters that are flown from Canada to Europe each year.
Due to the extremely delicate nature of lobsters as a food source, the only way to previously transport them from safely from the harvesting grounds of Nova Scotia to Europe is by air freight.
However, Aqualife chief executive Lars Nannerup told Lloyd"s List that may be about to change. ?The Nova Scotia lobster industry has recently been suffering due to the twin effects of low prices and a growing reluctance among European consumers to eat food that has been air-freighted.
?It is actually a very simple technical solution, where we use a double compressor system that through the container"s piping system supplies air to the tanks in which the lobsters are kept. Effectively we create an artificial state of hibernation by creating an environment that slows down the lobsters" metabolism.?
Mr Eseksen added: ?There"s no doubt that the carbon footprint aspect has become a real motivator for both consumers and retailers.?
In late March, UK shellfish supplier Homarus signed a contract with Aqualife to take delivery of 100 container shipments from Canada this year, and with the intention to book another 150 shipments in 2011. Aqualife said the freight is expected to generate revenues of DKr6.5m ($1.16m) and DKr10m this year and next respectively.
Mr Nannerup said the deal effectively takes all its current transport capacity.
Homarus signed the contract after Urk agreed to build its Aquaport facility, which is due to become operation al next month, and Mr Eseksen said the development was the last piece of the supply chain jigsaw.
?The Urk Aquaport is a significant investment, and that"s why we are also very confident in the success of this: there are some serious investors behind it and the there"s enough demand for the foreseeable future. Urk was the last component of the distribution system to be resolved, with the primary distribution channel will be through Rotterdam.?
The first Maersk sailing carrying the product is due to leave Halifax on May 18. On board will be two 40ft reefer units each carrying 20 tanks of live lobsters, which will have been delivered from Aqualife"s Aquaport facility near the port of Halifax.
Mr Eseksen said that transit time from Nova Scotia to Europe was 10-12 days, compared with 2-3 days via air freight. ?We can see that based on the nature of the product that we are comfortable to handle it within a 20-day timeframe. We did some trial shipments from Montreal, but it is much better not to have the trucking element from Nova Scotia ? so we decided to return to Halifax.?
The tanks and containers of Aqualife system are built at Maersk Container Industry"s Danish facilities, and the line owns the assets, while the patent on the technology is co-owned by the Maersk and Aqualife.
Mr Nannerup said that the focus would be on expanding into Asia. ?The big potential for this technology is bivalve shellfish ? mussels and clams, and in Asia this is a mainstream business. I hope that we will be able to establish a shipping station in Asia next year.?