Everything You Should Know About Reefer Shipping

The term ‘reefer’ is used in shipping to refer to refrigerated ships and refrigerated shipping containers that transport perishable commodities by sea.

Temperature-controlled transportation is used for perishables such as fruit, meat, fish, vegetables, and dairy products.

A reefer ship is a container ship that exclusively carries refrigerated containers.

However, reefer ships were the predominant mode of transporting goods in controlled conditions before the advent of reefer containers.

Reefer ships are generally side-door vessels which have water-tight ports on the ship’s hull that open into a cargo hold.

Inside these access ports or side doors, pallet lifts or another series of conveyors bring the cargo to the respective decks.

This special design makes the vessels particularly well suited for inclement weather operations as the tops of the cargo holds are always closed against rain and sun.

Inside reefer ships food and other perishable items sit on pallets in a refrigerated hold, and are delivered to a cold storage facility on arrival at a port.

Reefer ships differ from conventional container ships in their size, design, power generation and electrical distribution equipment.

The key difference is that they are smaller and require provisions made for powering each container’s cooling system.

Reefer containers are, simply put, large fridges carried by container ships.

Each container has its own individual refrigerated unit.

These containers are nearly always twenty-foot equivalent units (TEUs) — the standard size for cargo containers loaded by container ships.

Top Industry Developments:


First refrigerated marine containers came into use based upon converted truck units


Maersk Line received the first reefers with integrated cooling units


In 2013, 72% of the refrigerated transport capacity in maritime shipping was containerized, growth from 33% in 1980.


The share of the conventional or specialist reefer segment fell from 60% in 2000 to an estimated 26% in 2014.

This reflects the core trend of the last few years: the refrigerated box taking over from the conventional reefer ship. This has resulted in more than half of all conventional reefer vessels scrapped since 2000.


Seaborne transport of fresh produce in conventional reefer ships and in refrigerated boxes is estimated to have reached more than 95.7 million tonnes.

However, the maritime transport of fresh produce only accounts for 2.7% of the world seaborne trade of dry cargoes of all kinds.


Future growth for the seaborne perishable trade predicted to expand by 4% to 5% annually until 2020.

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