Reefer ship (ship type)

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Horn cap

Refrigerated ships in shipping are cargo ships that are set up to transport temperature-controlled goods. Typical goods for a reefer ship are fruits such as bananas, pineapples, coconuts, apples and grapes, as well as fish and meat. Between 1880 and 1960, meat was the most important refrigerated item internationally.

1870: The start of refrigerated ships

Meat as a refrigerated cargo at the start of the refrigerated shipping

Meat transport

Early successful refrigerated meat transports were carried out with ice as the refrigerant . At first the meat was packed directly in the ice. Later, the cargo was separated from the ice and cold air from the ice room was ventilated through the hold. The third stage of development had a cooling system made of pipe coils, via which a circulating brine as a coolant transported the charge heat to the ice room. However, these methods were not suitable for long transports such as from Australia to Europe, on which no ice could be stored on the way. Therefore, there have been several attempts to use refrigeration machines on ships, initially unsuccessful.

The first successful ship equipped with chillers was the French steamer Frigorifique in 1874 with three methyl-ether compressor chillers by Charles Tellier (engineer 1828–1913). At the end of 1876 - according to other sources in 1877 - for the first time it transported a load of chilled beef from Argentina ( Buenos Aires ) to Europe ( Rouen , France).

In 1877, the steamer Paraguay , equipped with absorption refrigeration systems from Ferdinand Carré , transported meat as deep-freeze cargo (−27 to −30 ° C) from Buenos Aires to Le Havre. Carre had registered a patent for the absorption refrigeration system he had invented in 1876.

The third method, the air cooling machine from Bell-Colemann, was used for the first time by the Scottish shipowner Illwraith on the steamer Strathleven and demonstrated its functionality in 1879 on a voyage from Sydney to London with 40  t of mutton. About ten years later, Linde's ammonia compressors became popular on reefer ships. They were installed in 1888 on the English reefer ships of the White Star Line and Rotterdamschen Lloyd. Further ships were equipped as a result of the growing meat transport from South America and Australia .

All of these methods have proven their suitability for transporting meat. Today, usually only the compressor refrigeration machines are used very efficiently with the refrigerant ammonia , but which has since been banned today because of the harmful for the ozone layer Freon is permitted refrigerants again. The meat is brought on board pre-chilled and for a long time was transported in high hold without circulating air fans or fresh air exchange. Therefore, this type of cooling has been called silent cooling .

Beginning of the banana shipping, pioneers

Banana and fruit transport

International banana shipping developed with a time lag in North America and Europe.

North America

It all began in America around 200 years ago when the sailing ship Reyward brought 30 stalks of red bananas from Cuba to New York. Although this did not establish a regular banana service, the Cuban bananas dominated the slowly developing North American market for the next few decades. Around 1850 they were replaced by the bananas from Honduras, Jamaica and today's Panama, which were imported into the USA via Boston, New York and later New Orleans .

The bananas were part of the cargo and were usually transported as perennials on deck of small, slow sailors at 3–6 knots, depending on the wind and duration of the voyage, 30% to 60% were prematurely ripe and thrown into the sea. In spite of this, mainly high profits were achieved and these attracted further traders. The American Civil War interrupted this trade, which then turned into a stormy development. From 1877, steamers on the English Atlas Line transported bananas for Dow Baker from Jamaica to New York. There were now over 100 small fruit companies in the United States, and by 1884 the price of a banana perennial dropped from $ 1.5 to $ 0.35.

The Atlas line was taken over by Hapag in 1901 , at that time seven steamers (15,000 GRT) without refrigeration were in service in this service, consisting of the three lines Jamaica - New York, Haiti - New York and Central America - New York. In 1903/1904, Hapag hired the Sibiria and Sarnia , which had been converted into refrigerated ships, into this service. The banana shipments were based on contracts with the United Fruit Company (UFC).

The former Carl Schurz as Changuinola

The UFC began in March 1903 with the Venus (ex Santos II , built in 1873), a former Hamburg-Süd ship, cooling tests to transport bananas. At that time the ships belonged to the shipowner A. Christensen, Copenhagen. They were chartered for these experiments and converted accordingly. The results achieved were so convincing that three reefer vessels ( San Jose , Limon , Esparta ) were immediately ordered in Belfast . The first, the San Jose , was delivered in August 1904 and was able to load 45,000 bananas into its cold storage rooms. In 1911 the UFC wanted to take over the Atlas service, but Hapag did not sell and then drove for the competition, the Atlantic Fruit Company (AFC) and its affiliated Hamburg-Columbien-Bananen-Actien-Gesellschaft . She ordered two new reefer ships for this service, the Emil L. Boas and Carl Schurz , which were delivered in 1912 and 1913. They drove between Port Limon / Santa Marta and New York. A lawsuit lasting several years with the UFC resulted in the abandonment of this service and its sale. The UFC, now known as Chiquita , is one of the largest fruit companies in the world.

Around 1920 New Orleans is the largest banana port in the world: around 700 ships, mainly UFCs, each with 25,000 to 50,000 perennials, are unloaded with elevators and transported further into the country.


Bananas had long been known in Portugal and Spain, but only small regional markets developed here. In England sporadic bananas from the Canary Islands and Madeira were sold in the 19th century, and from 1880 the Forewood Shipping Line regularly landed small quantities of bananas in London. In 1884 10,000 perennials were imported into England. At the end of 1890 bananas from Minor Keith`s plantations in Costa Rica reached the English port of Liverpool via New York. But it was a losing proposition as much of the fruit was already ripening on the ship. The ventilation of the hold was not sufficient to dissipate the heat of ripening and ripening gases from the fruit, because there was no cooling yet.

Until the turn of the century, bananas were mainly transported as deck cargo, as the ripening gases could not concentrate here, but were distributed by the wind. First attempts with “silent cooling” turned out to be unsuitable for fruit transport with a high metabolism (bananas). This was the experience of the Jamaica Fruit Importing and Trading Company , which was founded in London in 1896 with a capital of 50,000 pounds , to export bananas from Jamaica to England.

Due to the great distance, four chartered ships such as the Port Pirie were converted into refrigerated ships for weekly landings in order to reduce fruit breathing at low temperatures and to achieve a longer shelf life and transport time. These ships made a total of four voyages. After initial problems such as failure of the refrigeration system, explosions of the air-ethylene mixture and frozen bananas, Port Pirie reached London on May 5, 1897. The condition of the banana load was excellent and proved that refrigerated shipping was a promising new method of transport.

The Imperial Direct West India Mail Servic Company , founded in 1901, continued the success of the banana refrigerated ships. The first of the company's four refrigerated ships, the Port Morant , landed around 18,000 bananas, as well as oranges, mangoes, pineapples, rum, 160 tons of sugar, 14 mail bags and 35 passengers in England on March 18, 1902. The following voyages also showed that the transport of bananas over long stretches of the sea with the aid of cooling was no longer a problem if, in addition to the additional heat from the breath, the exhaled CO 2 , ethylene and water were removed from the hold as additional metabolic products. In the next step, the fruit trader Elders & Fyffes founded the refrigerated shipping company Fyffes Line in 1901 with a capital of 150,000 pounds and continued the pioneering work. The Fyffes Group is now the largest banana importer in Europe.

Development in Germany - 1881: Freighter with some cold storage rooms

Hamburg, view from the land of a reefer ship that unloads bananas with three elevators

The Hamburg shipowner Rob. From 1881 M. Sloman equipped at least the three steamers Catania , Sorrento and Marsala with cooling rooms. All early sailing and steam cooling ships had only a few cold rooms. They were loading frozen meat for London in Australia and New Zealand . In November 1894 the first German fully refrigerated ship, the refrigerated steamer Severus, was delivered to the oldest Hamburg tramp steamer shipping company C. Andersen. This steamer also loaded meat for London in Australia. From May and July 1894, the Hapag steamers Prussia and Persia were used in Hamburg - New York service. They had extensive facilities for moving live cattle and transporting frozen meat. Hapag had big plans to import frozen meat. The Reichstag passed the Meat Inspection Act , which came into force in November 1894. Under pressure from the German agricultural lobby , this contained provisions that made the import of chilled meat, frozen meat and live animals impossible for twenty years. Due to the decision of the Reichstag, the cold rooms of the nine P steamers could not be used. Meat was scarce and expensive until the First World War . This prevented the development of a German reefer fleet in the long term. Before the war, frozen fish were imported from 1903, apples from 1906 and bananas from 1912 on German refrigerated ships. Fruit imports could only be built up very slowly.

1903: First German banana reefer ships

Between 1903 and 1914, Hapag used a total of six cooling steamers. From 1903 the steamers Sarnia and Sibiria as conversions. Only the two intermediate decks could be cooled, the lower rooms were not cooled. There were no problems in the liner service between New York and the Caribbean. When the ships in a charter between Fronteira (Mexico) and New York were only supposed to load bananas, there were stability problems. They received solid ballast in sub-room 3 next to the shaft tunnel: 150 old railway wheels, 90-thread old anchor chains and 300 tons of pig iron. From 1909 the partial cooling steamers Prinz August Wilhelm and Prinz Joachim were used in the New York - Caribbean service. Their cold stores were slightly smaller than the cold stores in Sarnia and Sibiria . In 1912/13 the fully refrigerated ships Carl Schurz and Emil L. Boas were put into service as newbuildings. The ships were mainly used in the liner service with general cargo and bananas between New York and the Caribbean. Cooling steamers from other shipping companies transported apples and frozen fish to Germany, but also frozen meat to other European ports. Before the First World War, three fully refrigerated ships and 36 partial refrigerated ships with more than 30,000 cubic feet of refrigerated space ran under the German flag  . About 300 reefer vessels operated under the British flag, of which around 90% were partial reefer vessels.

1914 ships for the banana service to Cameroon

In 1914 and 1915 the new buildings Pungo and Pioneer of the shipping company F. Laeisz followed for their planned banana service to Cameroon ; they were the first reefer newbuildings by a German shipyard ( Joh. C. Tecklenborg in Geestemünde ). As early as 1908, the Laeisz shipping company had 350 banana saplings from Central America and the Canary Islands planted in Cameroon. In 1912, Laeisz founds the African Frucht-Compagnie GmbH (AFC) for further activities . The refrigerated ships from Laeisz and HAL were powered by steam engines, the speed was between 11 and 14  knots . Like almost all cargo ships of that time, the refrigerated ships were equipped with passenger facilities.

Hamburg, view from the refrigerated ship to the fruit handling area with elevators, pallets and refrigerated containers

Construction of a refrigerated ship

Older types of refrigerated vessels cannot be distinguished from normal general cargo ships . Only the white paint on the outside and the often particularly slim, yacht-like lines offer a reference point. The hull of a reefer ship is divided into several holds, which in turn are divided into 2.2 m high decks. Depending on the division, one or two decks represent a cooling zone that can be loaded with other refrigerated goods. From plus degrees for bananas and other fruits to frozen goods such as meat or fish. All cargo holds are insulated against tropical air and water temperatures of over 30 degrees Celsius.

Compression refrigeration systems are installed in the ships . The rooms are either cooled by direct evaporators or indirectly by means of brine circuits . A remote temperature display with a few hundred measuring points monitors the temperatures of the individual cargo holds.

Classic reefer ships are particularly powerful and reached speeds of 22 to 24 knots at full power as early as the 1960s and 1970s.

Often, because of its bright white color, the Cap San Diego, known as the museum ship in Hamburg, is mistaken for a reefer ship; However, it is a so-called express freighter , a fast liner cargo ship with some refrigerated rooms.

View into the hold of a reefer ship with bananas, space is made for the elevator, so that the boxes are cleared.

From 1970 reefer ships and reefer containers

In the 1960s and 1970s, the increase in refrigerated cargo caused an increase in the number of liner freighters with refrigerated rooms (see also Cap San Diego) and the refrigerated ship fleet; not only did the number of refrigerated ships increase, the size of the refrigerated ships also increased. In the 1960s, many new small refrigerated ships around 1000 GRT were built, such as the Ursula Horn , which could be used especially for transporting fish but also in part for transporting fruit. The peculiarity of this ship size, otherwise known as Kümo, was that it was used worldwide. It was especially Japanese, Greek and German shipowners like HC Horn who filled this gap in their search for niches in the shipping business. From 1970 onwards, this gap for frozen goods was increasingly closed by refrigerated containers.

Reefer container

Integral refrigerated container

Around 2000, around half of the refrigerated goods were shipped on container ships in special refrigerated containers . Insulated containers , equipped with their own cooling systems ( integral container ) work fully automatically, they are standard today.

The porthole containers, which have meanwhile been displaced by the integral containers, have two movable round flaps on the front opposite the door, which are used for the entry and exit of cold air. Porthole containers were only driven in the hold, as the corresponding devices for cold air supply (cooling rods) and temperature control were installed here. To connect the container to the cooling rod, the cooling device is activated, that is, air rings are inflated, which are placed between the two container openings and the cooling rod of the ship and there hermetically seal the airway to the outside. The container flaps open automatically. The cold air generated in the ship blows into the lower flaps, flows through the cargo and leaves the container through the upper one.

Reefer ships

Stowage of chilled goods in the cold room

The remaining 50% of the refrigerated cargo, mainly bananas and frozen fish, but also frozen poultry, lemons and pineapples, are transported by refrigerated ships. Some reefer shipping companies such as Maestro Reefers A / S , NYKCool AB , Star Reefers UK and Seatrade Group are monitored by the 360 Quality standard . Modern reefer ships can also stow up to 500  TEU reefer containers (integral containers) on deck and can only be recognized by experts as reefer ships. Laymen regard them as container ships because of their deck cargo.

In 2012 a trade journal wrote about ship scrapping:

“It can be observed that refrigerated ships have become more and more common among the types that have been abandoned in recent months. "There are no more potential buyers for older reefer ships". In the past few years the number of scrapped reefer vessels was around 40. In the first quarter of 2012, 17 reefer vessels were already abandoned. They are being replaced by modern container ships with connections for refrigerated containers, so that the reefers, which actually specialize in the transport of perishable goods, are less and less in demand. [...] according to the ISL , not a single refrigerated ship was launched last year. "


  • Peter Dittrich: 125 years of German refrigerated shipping, 1881–2006 . Monsenstein and Vannerdat, Münster 2009, ISBN 978-3-86582-928-3 .
  • Peter Dittrich: Working on reefer ships in the 1960s. About the change in cargo shipping . In: Men from Morgenstern , Heimatbund an Elbe and Weser estuary e. V. (Ed.): Niederdeutsches Heimatblatt . No. 818 . Nordsee-Zeitung GmbH, Bremerhaven February 2018, p. 1–2 ( digitized version [PDF; 8.7 MB ; accessed on July 2, 2019]).
  • Karl-Heinz Hochhaus, Holger Glandien, Ingo Schenk, Michael Schweer: Cool. Reefer technology with a future: reefer ships: market, transport and perspective . Seehafen-Verlag, Hamburg 2007, ISBN 978-3-87743-818-3 .
  • Karl-Heinz Hochhaus: End of refrigerated shipping? In: Hansa , issue 10/2008, pp. 21-26, Schiffahrts-Verlag Hansa, Hamburg 2008, ISSN  0017-7504
  • Karl-Heinz Hochhaus: Deutsche Kühlschifffahrt (1902-1995) 1996 Publisher HM Hausschild GmbH, Bremen ISBN 3-931 785-11-4
  • Thomas Wägener: Refrigerated ships in fewer and fewer ports . In: Hansa , issue 2/2019, pp. 66/67
  • Arnold Kludas , Ralf Witthohn: The German reefer ships . Koehler, Herford 1981, ISBN 3-7822-0248-1 .

Web links

Commons : Refrigerated Ships  - Collection of images, videos and audio files
Wiktionary: Kühlschiff  - explanations of meanings, word origins, synonyms, translations

Individual evidence

  1. ^ Peter Dittrich: 125 Years of German Refrigerated Shipping 1881-2006 . Münster 2009, ISBN 978-3-86582-928-3 .
  2. ^ Karl-Heinz Hochhaus: Deutsche Kühlschiffahrt (1902-1995). Shipping companies, refrigerated ships, refrigerated goods. Hausschild, Bremen 1996, ISBN 3-931785-11-4 , p. 10.
  3. ^ Large-scale cattle breeding (The Estancia). In: Herbert Wilhelmy , Wilhelm Rohmeder : The La Plata countries. Westermann, Braunschweig 1963, pp. 181f.
  4. ^ Refrigerated Transportation Timeline, pre-WWII. ( Memento from February 11, 2012 in the Internet Archive ) Timeline of refrigerated transport on
  5. ^ Museum page with a picture of the Frigorifique
  6. ^ Karl-Heinz Hochhaus: Deutsche Kühlschiffahrt (1902-1995). Shipping companies, refrigerated ships, refrigerated goods. Hausschild, Bremen 1996, ISBN 3-931785-11-4 , p. 11.
  7. a b 200 years of international banana shipping on:
  8. ^ Mark H. Goldberg: Going Bananas. North American Maritime Books, 1993, OCLC 831203757 .
  9. ^ Karl-Heinz Hochhaus: Deutsche Kühlschiffahrt (1902-1995). Shipping companies, refrigerated ships, refrigerated goods. Hausschild, Bremen 1996, ISBN 3-931785-11-4 , p. 12.
  10. Duncan Haws: Merchant Fleets. No. 31: Elders & Fyffes and Geest. Uckfield 1996, ISBN 0-946378-31-2 .
  11. Karl-Heiz high-rise: container ships displace refrigerated ships. In: Hansa , Heft 2/2013, pp. 40–45, Schiffahrts-Verlag Hansa, Hamburg 2013, ISSN  0017-7504
  12. HANSA: Thanks to the shipping crisis, the scrapping industry is flourishing. ( Memento of the original from July 5, 2013 in the Internet Archive ) Info: The archive link was inserted automatically and has not yet been checked. Please check the original and archive link according to the instructions and then remove this notice. In: Hansa , issue 6/2012. @1@ 2Template: Webachiv / IABot /