REEFER LINE FINALLY OPENS AFTER THREE-MONTH DELAY

REEFER LINE FINALLY OPENS AFTER THREE-MONTH DELAY

A frustrating three months for the world's newest refrigerated shipping company finally ended Tuesday when the staff of five moved into premises in the center of Stockholm and officially opened for business.

Scanreefer Chartering AB, a Swedish-Dutch joint venture, will be managing a fleet of roughly 20 large reefer ships initially but wants to grow. Ideally, the company would like to build a fleet of around 40 ships in the 450,000- to 500,000-cubic-feet size range, Lars Gunnar Larsson, managing director of Scanreefer, said Thursday as he helped unpack and organize the new office.He and three other former senior executives from Cool Carriers, the world's largest operator of refrigerated ships, have formed a partnership with the Dutch reefer company Seatrade Groningen BV that was seeking new management expertise.

But the new operation was stalled for three months when Cool Carriers, located just outside Stockholm, held Mr. Larsson's three colleagues to the terms of their contracts.

Cool Carriers prevented them from working in the reefer trades for three months after they resigned at the same time in June. The ban expired this week, enabling Thorsten Klenell, Scanreefer's vice president, plus Gosta Noren and Peter Jedeur-Palmgren and another staff member to start work.

Only Mr. Larsson, formerly Cool Carriers' vice president responsible for the Pacific trades and the first to leave Cool Carriers, was not prevented

from working for a competitor and has spent the past few weeks setting up the new office and meeting customers.

Seatrade, with a fleet of around 90 reefer vessels, has traditionally specialized in smaller ships. Earlier this year, Seatrade invited Mr. Larsson and three colleagues to set up a new unit that would be responsible for the management of the largest ships in the Seatrade fleet.

Seatrade, whose core business is in the Atlantic basin, owns ships and operates vessels on behalf of others.

Cool Carriers, one of the shipping subsidiaries that the Swedish transport group Bilspedition AB plans to sell, said it regrets losing the four men to a new competitor. But their departure coincided with a period of restructuring for Cool Carriers, which has reduced the staff from 100 to 80 in recent months and scaled down the size of its fleet in response to tough market conditions and a decline in profits.

Nevertheless, the defection of four such senior managers created a considerable stir throughout the close-knit reefer shipping industry. Cool Carriers does not own many ships but is effectively a software company whose reputation is dependent on the expertise and know-how of its staff.

Scanreefer, which is jointly owned by its management and Seatrade, is being launched during the worst period since 1984 for the reefer shipping trades. A combination of the European Community's new restrictions on bananas, EC import controls on apples, the recession (which has reduced fruit consumption), and too many new ships, have depressed freight rates and forced a considerable number of older vessels into lay-up, or a prolonged period of inactivity.

The peak season for the reefer trades, which usually lasts from February to May or June as southern hemisphere fruit growers export their produce to Europe and North America, finished by mid-April. Some freight rates negotiated earlier this year were down by 20 percent or 30 percent compared with the previous season, some estimates said. The average decline in rates for the current season is nearer 8 percent to 10 percent, Mr. Larsson said in an interview Thursday.

Seatrade's large ships that will be transferred to Scanreefer management are fully employed, despite the difficult market conditions, with the ships carrying more dry cargoes such as rice and cut timber during the low season for chilled and frozen produce.

Furthermore, Scanreefer should be able to benefit from its close links with Seatrade, Mr. Larsson said, entering new trades with Seatrade's smaller ships at first and then introducing bigger vessels as business grows.