Seaborne fresh fruit trades are about to soar over the next months as harvested products flood the ports in the southern hemisphere. With container lines distracted by high-paying dry commodities ex China, specialized reefer operators expect another uplift in rates and earnings, according to Glenn Selling, Chief Operating Officer (COO) of Cool Carriers. [ds_preview] The company is part of Baltic Shipping – the world’s largest reefer operator with over 40 vessels.
Only a couple of weeks until the southern hemisphere fruit season kicks in … Are you thrilled about the prospects?
Glenn Selling: 2021 was a good year for us and the outlook for the next peak season starting with Chile around Xmas is very strong. Our capacities are stretched already. Normally after the New Zealand and the South Africa seasons we have a seasonal dip of 2–3 months from August before Morocco starts and after that Chile. But that never happened this year.
There are a lot new clients knocking on our door who are in desperate need of space due to the fact so much reefer container capacity got stuck in China. We try to balance these new opportunities with ongoing requirements of long-standing customers. Clients with a muliti-year agreement are indeed the winners whilst those with seasonal rate discussions will have to accept increases in line with the present market situation.
Right now we are focusing on the upcoming Chile season and contract negotiations for next year’s banana business ex Ecuador. We are also studying the possibility of a liner service from South Africa to Europe, but so far the industry prefers to gamble on enough container capacity to handle the volumes out of South Africa.
What kind of new clients and opportunities are there?
Selling: The big new thing for us this year was export of orange juice from China to the US East Coast, to Turkey and to other places. We had four sailings in total so far, loading the juice in drums and on pallets under deck. Other reefer carriers were doing it as well. That is the kind of cargo we normally don’t have access to as it gets shipped with container lines. Also, the meat industry in Brazil has been screaming for specialized fleet capacity. Another big new trade on the backhaul for specialized reefer vessels was palletized pasta from Turkey to Venezuela.
Do port congestion and trade disruptions cause you any trouble?
Selling: Not right now. We had issues in China earlier this year when one of our ships carrying citrus had to wait several weeks for permission to discharge but nothing since then. Contrary to the container liner business, there are no delays worth mentioning for us.
In Los Angeles for example we have our own arrangements with a pier where our ships go directly past all the container ships. Container logistics for us is not as complicated as for the container lines. Our reefer containers don’t leave the port most of the time. We discharge if necessary with our own gear, strip the containers in the port and put them back on the same ship if possible. It’s a 2–3 day operation that works very well.
Interview: Michael Hollmann