Major reefer operator builds container capacity

Seatrade’s 2,259TEU Colour-class containerships can accommodate 674 forty foot reefer units
Seatrade’s 2,259TEU Colour-class containerships can accommodate 674 forty foot reefer units
Seatrade is leasing more than 2,400 Carrier Transicold PrimeLINE refrigeration units, installed mainly on 40ft high-cube containers.
Seatrade is leasing more than 2,400 Carrier Transicold PrimeLINE refrigeration units, installed mainly on 40ft high-cube containers.

A dramatic change is taking place in the profile of the reefership fleet controlled by Seatrade through the deliveries of a new generation of container vessels embodying a high reefer intake. By David Tinsley.

As the operator of the world’s largest fleet of dedicated, refrigerated cargo vessels, and having long been the industry’s most active proponent of the pallet-friendly, specialist reefership mode for deep-sea, temperature-controlled goods transportation, the Seatrade Group’s investment in fully-containerised tonnage is a seminal development.

Containerisation has been increasing its share of world seaborne trade in frozen and chilled cargo for many years, and has become the premier means of long-haul shipping of reefer products. While a number of the major fruit producers have converted to fully-containerised reefer vessels for certain trades, the extent of penetration of the business as a whole by liner shipping companies has had the most profound impact on the specialised reefership sector as a whole.

Design evolution within the so-called traditional reefership field has seen increasing provision over the past two decades for ‘plug-in’ boxes, such that optimisation for palletised cargo is complemented by the scope to handle a substantial number of reefer and dry boxes. Seatrade’s preceding generation of 2010/2011-built Atlantic Klipper-class reeferships of 661,600ft3-capacity, for instance, incorporate sockets for 200 40ft reefer boxes within an all-up 552 TEU container intake.    

A step-change is represented by the new series of Colour-class ships commissioned into the fleet deployed by Antwerp-based Seatrade Reefer Chartering. Led by the 27,000dwt Seatrade Orange, the 2,259TEU design offers a high degree of container carrying flexibility, while catering to the company’s core business in perishable cargo. Four of the six newbuilds contracted from Yangfan Shipyard have been delivered to date, and Seatrade holds options on six further vessels at the Chinese company’s Zhoushan yard.  

Electrical sockets on deck and in the five holds provide for 674 reefer units, potentially up to the largest type of high-cube, 40ft unit, within a capability for the gamut of 20ft, 40ft and 45ft containers and flat-racks. The fifth and sixth ships in the series have been specified with extra plugs on deck, raising the potential reefer box intake to as many as 776 40ft units. Self-sufficiency in cargo handling, a requirement in many fresh produce export outlets, is assured on all vessels by three 45-tonne deck cranes.

While the nominal container intake of Seatrade Orange is 2,259TEU, the homogeneous load factor(HLF) at 14 tonnes per unit is 1,580TEU. On the basis of a full complement (674FEU) of reefer boxes, each of which can take 20 pallets, the ship offers capacity for 13,480 pallets of refrigerated goods.   

The cellular guide system in the holds accommodates a maximum of 10 rows of containers, while up to 12 rows are stowed across the weatherdeck and hatches. The distribution of the reefer sockets affords flexibility in cargo stowage and planning, whereby 316 plugs are within the holds, and 358 are on deck. The increased reefer capacity of the fifth and sixth ships in the series, Seatrade Green and Seatrade Gold, is being achieved by raising the number of electrical connections for the above-deck stow from 358 to 460.  

Seatrade Orange is powered by a single MAN two-stroke diesel of the latest, G-generation, with direct drive to a fixed-pitch propeller. The six-cylinder G60ME-C9.5 Tier II model was manufactured by Chinese licensee Hudong Heavy Machinery, to a specified maximum continuous rating(SMCR) of 13,100kW at 97rpm. Laden to the design draught, and at the continuous service rating of about 11,790kW, the vessel can make 19 knots. A Promas rudder installation confers increased efficiency, and manoeuvring is enhanced by a 1,200kW bow tunnel thruster.

Electrical demand

Such is the electrical load incurred by a large complement of reefer boxes that the auxiliary power concentration amounts to 6,270kW, using four diesel generator sets, for a maximum electrical output of 7,206kVA. Two of the aggregates are rated at 2,351kVA and two are of 1,567kVA.

Seatrade is investing in more than 6,000 new reefer containers, associated machinery and remote monitoring systems in support of its drive into the container market. Last year, the group announced that Maersk Container Industry had been contracted to supply 4,000 Star Cool integrated reefers, fitted with auto ventilation. A large number of these will feature the controlled atmosphere(CA) system, and the balance will be similarly upgraded if demand increases for long distance transportation of certain types of perishables.

More than 2,400 Carrier Transicold PrimeLINE container refrigeration units are also being acquired on lease, including 2,000 featuring EDGE energy saving technology. Installed primarily on 40ft high-cube boxes, the PrimeLINE units are expected to be used on all trade routes served by Seatrade. Those incorporating EDGE have been specified with optional water-cooled condensers to suit the freshwater-based hold cooling system in the Seatrade Orange series.  EDGE technology includes a suite of enhancements, such as digital scroll compressor optimisation, a two-speed condenser motor, and refined evaporator fan geometry, resulting in a claimed 20% efficiency improvement relative to a standard PrimeLINE refrigeration machine.

Seatrade’s daughter company StreamLines had launched the group’s first fully-containerised operation in January 2016. With a high reefer slot component, the Blue Stream service remains dedicated to perishable goods shippers in Central America, the USA and Europe.

The January 2017 start of the Meridian Line, into which the first four vessels of the incoming, fully-cellular Colour generation have been enrolled, takes the transformative process a major step forward, and underscores the group’s long-term strategic intent of embracing containerisation across its liner network. Meridian is the first 100% container service implemented under the Seatrade banner, rather than through a subsidiary, and signifies the conversion of a specialised reefer link between New Zealand and Europe to the full container mode, within a regular schedule that also embraces ports in the South Pacific, Peru and the US Atlantic seaboard.

Although specialised, pallet-optimised vessels are expected to remain a viable option for seasonal and spot reefer trades for many years to come, and while it has four handysize ‘freezers’ currently on order to serve niche trades, the group indicated towards the end of last year that the balance of its current liner services would convert to the container platform in the coming years.    

In the interim between handover and the inauguration of Meridian Line, Seatrade Orange ran on charter to French-owned, UK-based Africa Express Line(AEL), and second-of-class Seatrade Red was used on StreamLines’ Blue Stream service. ‘Fast, direct and dedicated’ (FDD) has long been the Seatrade slogan for the logistic services it affords the perishables sector, centred on specialised vessels operating on a direct basis between loading points and discharge ports, providing short transit times and avoiding transhipment. The FDD concept speaks to the particular time and handling sensitivities of consignments of fresh produce and other perishable, often high-value items.

Unlike other spheres of shipping, the types of cargo carried by operators such as Seatrade loses value with each passing day within the transport chain. Accordingly, even with a shift in the mode of transport from palletised stow in reefer holds and tweendecks to refrigerated container, the FDD service concept remains wholly relevant to the contents of the container.

Fresh consumption

As observed by Seatrade, consumption and demand for fresh produce and other temperature-controlled goods continues to grow exponentially with increasing population and buying power, and with the developed world’s seemingly insatiable appetite for availability and variety on a year-round basis. At the same time, developing countries are acting increasingly on the income-generating potential of food production and export. “The variable of load and discharge port combinations tied to the perishables trade complicates the traditional focus on single shipper/receiver channel models,” stated the company.

The new Meridian service integrates various strands of reefer business in an itinerary comprising New Zealand, Peru, the USA and Europe on a year-round schedule that will involve eight vessels in total, made up of four chartered ships plus Seatrade Orange and the three subsequent members of the Colour class. As transit time and dedicated ports are pivotal to the whole, Seatrade has accordingly married the container model with its FDD concept to offer shippers a bespoke service.

Fixed sailings are provided every 10 days, enabling Seatrade to serve existing customers but with the extra opportunities to accommodate all types of containerised cargo that could not be carried before due to space limitations. The company contends that, through Meridian, it is offering the shortest transit times available between Europe, the South Pacific islands of Tahiti and New Caledonia, New Zealand, Peru and the US eastern seaboard. Examples are 23 and 30 days from the EU to Tahiti and New Caledonia, respectively, 30 days from New Zealand to the EU, 20 days from NZ to the US East Coast, 16 days from Peru to the EU, and eight days from Peru to the USEC.   

Third-of-class Seatrade White was christened in Tauranga (NZ) on April 11 this year, when it was indicated that much of the 2017 season’s North European shipments by kiwifruit marketeer Zespri would be effected using Colour-class boxships on the Meridian service.  

While now pursuing containerisation of its existing, scheduled liner links, the group’s belief in the long-term relevance and value of pure, specialised reeferships for seasonal and charter operations is evidenced by a prospective new quartet of ‘freezers’.

Due to be delivered by Guangxin Shipbuilding & Heavy Industry from the end of 2017 onwards, the series of four 300,000ft3-capacity vessels will be assigned to the GreenSea Reefer Pool. The design offers particular scope in the transhipment and transportation of frozen fish and squid, and shipment of citrus fruits and potatoes. Options are held on a second batch of four newbuilds. In addition, the Chinese yard is constructing a 4,600dwt juice carrier for Seatrade.


Length overall


Length b.p.




Depth, to main deck


Draught, scantling


Corresponding deadweight


Draught, design


Corresponding deadweight


Gross tonnage


Container capacity,

2,259 TEU

Reefer plugs

674 (FEU)*

Holds, total volume


Deck cranes

3 x 45t

Main engine power, SMCR


Main engine power, CSR


Speed @design draught

19 knots

4 x auxiliaries, total power



Bureau Veritas

Class notations

1, +Hull, +Mach, CP (BWT), AUT-UMS (SS), SYS-NEQ-1 (SS), Green Passport, Cleanship, SEEMP, InWaterSurvey



*670 plugs in first four vessels; 776 plugs in 5th and 6th ships and options.

Colour-class deliveries

Seatrade Orange

Aug 2016

Seatrade Red

Sep 2016

Seatrade White

Dec 2016

Seatrade Blue

Jan 2017

Seatrade Green


Seatrade Gold


Options held on further six ships from Yangfan Shipyard.


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