Modular Life Support

Modular Life Support

The global reefer container fleet shrank in 2009. Carriers scrapped obsolete units, and not one carrier built a new refrigerated container, according to Bill Duggan of Maersk Line.

And because of expected record losses among global carriers, 2010 won’t be a big year for investment, either. Duggan said Maersk will build some specialty refrigeration equipment but won’t buy any general reefer containers.

Other carriers are expected to at least dip their toes in the water. OOCL’s M.K. Wong said no decision has been made about new orders, but other industry executives say they’ll have no choice but to replace some scrapped units.

Carrier Transicold, a major manufacturer of reefer boxes, and Purfresh are ready to unveil a modular unit that can be used on new or old containers to extend the shelf life of fresh fruits and vegetables and help guard against tainted foods and recalls. Purfresh Transport technology uses ozone pumped through the container to help eliminate molds, yeasts, bacteria and viruses in the air and on surfaces, as well as to consume ethylene in the container.

Instead of selling equipment to carriers, Carrier Transicold will offer Purfresh Transport technology on a per-trip lease basis, installing, setting and then removing the modular unit for each trip.

The technology is aimed at improving food safety and reducing waste, according to Jim Taeckens, senior product manager at Carrier Transicold Container Products Group. “The last few years there have been issues with food safety,” Taeckens said. “The problems are not necessarily transport-related, but this can certainly increase the level of food safety. We’ve talked to customers, and the feeling is that if there is anything we can do to improve, there is a willingness to do it.”

For shippers, the system can mean a larger volume of salable produce and a lower risk of tainted food and recalls. For carriers, the system can help reduce the filing of claims, he said. “We can’t say this will make the food supply safe,” Taeckens said, “but it’s one more thing we can do.”

The cost of using the service will vary depending on the length of the voyage and handling requirements. Taeckens said pricing will be competitive with using modified atmosphere during a shipment — something he said generally adds $1,250 to $1,650 per trip.

For carriers, one attraction of ozone technology is it could help lure new business onto the ocean.

“The system works well on almost any commodity that has issues with mold decay — stone fruit, tropical fruit, grapes, berries or citrus,” Taeckens said. “But one of the drivers is that if carriers can use it to get commodities that are typically air freight, such as raspberries, it would be considerably less expensive than flying.”

He said the technology extends shelf life, allowing the fragile cargoes to move by a slower and less expensive method.

Carrier and Purfresh are testing the system now with raspberries and have had success using it with shipments of blueberries. “We intend to test floral, but that’s a bit longer term,” Taeckens said.

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