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Reefer crisis deepens

Reefer crisis deepens
A cargo war erupts over crisis-ridden container operators offering ?distressed? rates to transport fruit.

A cargo war erupts over crisis-ridden container operators offering ?distressed? rates to transport fruit.

Asset values have collapsed for the global reefer fleet as rates remain at their lowest levels in 20 years and a cargo war erupts over crisis-ridden container operators offering ?distressed? rates to transport fruit.

?The crisis has hit the reefer industry,? a Europe-based reefer broker told. ?There is going to be some blood on the carpet this autumn.?

He said operators remained under severe pressure, with the value of reefers falling 20%-25% over seven months, and older, higher-cost vessels losing even more.

Falling cargo volumes have pushed average spot rates for large, modern reefers down to $0.27 per cu m, just over half the amount needed to meet operating costs and 80% lower than 12 months ago.

An estimated 145 ships of 100,000 cu m and above from the 844-strong fleet were now in lay-up, or unemployed, according to Lloyd"s Marine Intelligence Unit.

?We don"t want to go into the business of running our vessels at a loss, so we might as well just get them out of the equation,? said Peter Pontikos, a spokesman for Laskaridis Shipping.

The Athens-based owner of nearly 30 reefers has laid up two vessels, citing ?commercial reasons?.

Larger, older ships were candidates for lay-ups as container operators were ?taking quite a large chunk? of their viable cargoes, Mr Pontikos said.

Norway-listed owner and operator Star Reefers said it was also considering lay-ups, after the June bankruptcy of a major charterer, St Petersburg-based Sunway Group, led to five ships being redelivered early into the severely depressed market. ?Some say that the major container operators are indulging in predatory pricing behaviour to win market share and force out smaller specialist reefer operators,? Star Reefers chief executive Simon Stevens said.

Aggressively discounted prices were offered to transport reefers from markets in perishable fruit in Chile, Argentina and South Africa, he said.

?A small number of charters have been concluded at distressed rates for the carriage of tropicals, although the suitability of the vessels and the viability of such an operation under normal market conditions is questionable,? he said.

Lines had also offered very low rates to transport bananas from Ecuador to St Petersburg, the broker said.

?The container market has collapsed and they see what else they can do ? and one of the things they can is target the reefer market.?


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