When Maersk Line decided to end the practice of providing free chassis to its container customers, other carriers were expected to fall quickly in line.
But a year later, the situation is complicated, with about half the carriers still providing chassis and other lines exiting the business. For reefer shippers, the situation is even more confusing with some carriers providing both chassis and gensets and some not. Some carriers that no longer provide chassis for dry cargo still provide the road equipment for refrigerated loads as a way of keeping the more lucrative business. Others provide a nose-mount genset, but not the chassis.
Added to that is the question of whether particular carriers or the various chassis pools have both nose-mount and underslung gensets available.
“Right now truckers and shippers are the guinea pigs for the steamship lines,” said Bill Aboudi, president of AB Trucking in Oakland, Calif. “There are as many ways we obtain the chassis and the gensets as there are steamship lines.”
Trucking companies are passing along the cost of rentals to shippers, charges that range from $12 a day for a chassis only to $175 for a chassis-genset combination for three days.
“Keeping up with the paperwork is hard work,” said Steve Gardner, regional manager transportation at PCC Logistics, a drayage company in Oakland. “We add a $4 administrative fee to the cost of the equipment. I think most carriers are doing that.”
PCC handles about 60 percent of the reefer shipments that go through the Port of Oakland.
The situation is complicated, Gardner said, but he hasn’t run into any equipment shortages so far. That could change as more of ocean carriers now offer only nose-mount gensets, which are clipped to the front of the containers.
“Reefer shipments are heavy and dense, and a nose-mount genset adds about 2,000 pounds, which means you have to take about 2,000 pounds out of the box,” Aboudi said.
“The only thing I can load for over-the-road with a nose-mount is grapes,” Gardner said. “It’s the only thing that is light enough.”
The vast majority of gensets are the clip-on variety because they’re easier to maintain, said Allen Clifford, executive vice president of Mediterranean Shipping Co. USA. “If you have to repair the genset, it’s easier to take it off the nose-mount,” he said. “But if it is an undermount, it is welded to the chassis, so if the genset needs repairs, you lose the chassis as well.”
Clifford said the rising volume of reefer shipments is putting pressure on the supply of refrigerated containers and gensets. “We are seeing such an upswing on reefer that it is putting pressure on the system,” he said. “It’s not at the stage where we are having real problems providing service, but there is definitely pressure.”
Following the global financial crisis in 2008, ocean carriers cut back on refrigerated container purchases. Many carriers had announced plans to buy new reefer boxes again, but red ink on carrier balance sheets has put those plans on hold.
Crowley Maritime is an exception. In November, the carrier added 222 40-foot high-cube refrigerated containers and 133 new gensets in preparation for the peak perishables season in Central America.
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