Zespri shipping manager Mike Knowles says the next kiwifruit season could see the first use of new multi-purpose reefer ships commissioned by Seatrade, one of its key shipping partners.

Netherlands-owned Seatrade is the world's largest reefer vessel operator and owner. Last year it announced four new-build 300,000cu ft capacity vessels, part of a programme for a total of 12 high-spec reefer container vessels and another four optional handy-size reefer vessels. The new ships will carry chilled containers in the hold as well as containers above deck. They are known as reefer-heavy box ships, which have either more than 1000 reefer plugs, or reefer plugs accounting for more than 20 per cent of their container capacity.

"Seatrade are building these ships in response to the fact that their ships are getting old," said Mr Knowles.

"The core trend of the last few years has been the refrigerated box taking over from the conventional reefer ship," said Dynamar in its late 2015 Shipping Insight report: Dynamar Reefer Analysis: Market Structure, Conventional, Containers.

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"This translated in more than half of all conventional reefer vessels scrapped since the turn of the century with barely any ships ordered, along with increasing liner connections operated with reefer-heavy container ships. This caused the share of the conventional or specialist reefer segment falling back from 60 per cent in 2000 to an estimated 26 per cent in 2014."