Container shipping lines are expanding aggressively into the trades traditionally dominated by operators of refrigerated cargo ships, a Norwegian shipbroking firm said this week.

Nevertheless, the 1995 peak season for the reefer shipping trades ended on a stronger note than last year, Klaveness Chartering said in its half-yearly reefer market report.Freight rates achieved during the busiest part of the year, between March and June, were 10 percent to 15 percent higher than in 1994, according to Klaveness.

The reefer shipping trades are just starting to recover from a difficult couple of years that saw freight rates for the transport of fruit, vegetables and other produce fall sharply.

As this year's peak season slowed down, prominent reefer ship operators such as Sweden's Cool Carriers said they had been able to average around 115 to 120 cents a cubic foot for 30 days during March for a 450,000-cubic-foot ship, compared with below 100 cents a year earlier.

Spot rates peaked in March at about 135 cents, according to Klaveness, but in 1991 rates briefly touched almost 180 cents at the busiest period.

Soon after, a combination of factors sent the market into a tailspin.

While acknowledging that the market still has a long way to go before fully recovering to levels of three or four years ago, and warning of increased competition from container lines, Klaveness nevertheless cited a number of reasons for the stronger market that could sustain further rate rises.

The commercial climate for reefer products is favorable as the world economy continues to improve, the firm said.

An abundant volume of fruit, vegetables and frozen products is available while the range of commodities seeking reefer shipping space continues to expand. Nuts, onions and garlic are among the produce gaining in importance. For example, Klaveness said that between 10 and 15 cargoes of garlic and nuts were booked in June from China to Europe "at interesting freight levels."

Also underpinning the market is the limited number of newbuildings on order, with scrapping of older ships outnumbering new deliveries.

The phasing out of elderly freezer ships that carry deep-frozen cargoes also has given freight rates a lift.

Highlights of the latest reefer season included a "remarkable increase" in Israeli exports, with almost 24 million cartons of citrus shipped in 1994/ 95 compared with 18 million in 1993/94.