How to Handle Cargoes on Board a Reefer Vessel/Container?



Reefer Container/ Vessel:

A Reefer Vessel is a type of refrigerated cargo ship/container used to transport perishable commodities which require temperature-controlled transportation.

The changing consumer preferences is met by the use of such reefer vessel/container. General preferences and the types of cargoes that dominate the reefer industry are bananas, deciduous fruits, citrus fruits and other commodities like meat, fish, seafood, vegetables, dairy products and exotic produce.

At what temperatures shall the goods be maintained:

  • Cargoes such as meat have to be kept either chilled at −1.4°C or frozen at −18°C.
  • Cargoes, such as fruit, have to be kept at exact temperatures ranging from 0°C to +13°C to ensure that they arrive in the best possible condition.
  • For some chilled products, such as avocados and asparagus, there has been increasing interest in providing equipment that will adjust the composition of the air inside a container or a reefer vessel.

Causes for the damage of perishable cargoes:

The damages are not only due to reefers but also other factors mentioned below.

  • Malfunction of the reefer machinery
  • Deviation from the required cooling temperature
  • Improper stowage preventing proper air circulation
  • Breakdown of compressor/machinery and the reefer plant.
  • Pre-loading factors:
    • Shifting the cargo
    • Poor packaging
    • Contamination/taint damage
    • Harvest problems
    • Lack of proper pre-cooling
    • Defrosting
    • Stowage

What are the damages faced due to the above factors:

The goods are generally destined for human consumption.  The consequences as well as the consequential damages faced by the damaged cargoes are disastrous.

  • Damages:
    • Premature ripening of fruit or
    • Thawing damage to meat and fish products

How to prevent such losses:

  • Written Instructions Including details of pre-cooling, carriage temperature (only set point can be controlled), ventilation and stowage requirements (where applicable) should be obtained from the shipper prior to loading refrigerated cargo.
  • The Master should accept the carriage instructions that the vessel shall comply with.
  • In case of any doubt in the instruction, the Master should:
    • Query the instructions in writing
    • Ask for specific confirmation that they are correct
  • Even the slightest variation in the carrying temperature may result in a substantial claim. If in any doubt, the local P&I correspondent should be called in to assist.
  • A certificate from a class surveyor or other competent expert prior to loading refrigerated cargo on board the vessel should be obtained confirming the condition and suitability of the refrigeration machinery and reefer compartments for the carriage of the specific cargo
  • For containers, pre-trip inspections should be carried out.
  • The carrier must show compliance with the carriage instructions and needs to ensure that proper documentation regarding the carriage can be presented in case of a claim or cargo problem.

General rules to be followed in a reefer container/vessel:

  • Follow “frozen” or “chilled” cargo specifications as required
  • For CA (controlled atmosphere) the carriage instructions should give the recommended gas levels for oxygen and carbon dioxide
  • Ensure floor and drains are free of debris
  • Arrange stowage mode to optimise vertical cooling
  • Ensure weight is distributed evenly in container for maximum stability
  • Do not load beyond the end of the T-floor or to the ceiling
  • Cargo is to be stowed in cargo holds with vertical air supply and good air circulation.
  • Reefer containers are often stowed by shippers, but otherwise it is important to follow shippers’ instructions and allow for proper air flow
  • If palletised, place dunnage in centre channel/“chimneys” between pallets Block and brace cargo as necessary
  • To cool down the cargo holds, full capacity of the reefer equipment is needed during the first 24 hours and then set on carrying temperature
  • For containers, set air vent (for chilled cargo) as per instructions or ensure air vent is closed (For Frozen Cargo)

One such incident involving the reefer container:

A container ship, carrying a number of reefer and other containers, experienced a power failure due to the heavy weather and water on the deck.  This affected approximately 130 reefer containers loaded with several perishable, frozen and chilled cargoes.  Immediately, the owners contacted the club who in turn contacted a reefer/cargo expert.  Information regarding the nature of the cargo in all the containers, their monitored temperatures and the carriage instructions were passed to the expert, who accordingly recommended a prioritised sequence of repair, based on which cargo was most susceptible to damage within a short time.

All the affected reefer container sockets and circuit breakers were repaired or changed by the crew while at sea.  It took the crew a few days to re-plug all the containers, but in the end there was no claim.

In case of problems in a reefer system, it is advised to contact a reefer expert and P & I immediately.  This may help the carriers in avoiding cargo losses and reject cargo claims.

Source: Skuld


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