The battle for supremacy between full refrigerated container vessels (reefers) and containerships entered a new phase last year as containerships provided more than 50 per cent of global reefer capacity, a report says. London-based Drewry Consultants said reefer capacity on containerships had grown at an average annual rate of 7.6 per cent since 1980. The report, World Reefer Market Prospects and Modal Competition: Pallets v Containers v Breakbulk , said a large number of post-Panamax vessels with more than 1,000 teu (20 ft equivalent unit) of reefer space had been delivered. As the reefer fleet had grown by just 2.6 per cent per year - and had even contracted in the most recent market downturn after 1993 - the shift towards containerships had been accelerated and the balance had tipped earlier than expected. Drewry said while the shift to a minority position was a psychological blow to reefer operators, they would have to become accustomed to the changed market order. Liner container operators would inevitably extend their capacity lead, the report said. Over the next 10 years the containership reefer fleet could be expected to register a minimum growth of 5 per cent per year. When the 1995 order book closed, reefer fleet deliveries up to 1998 were just 5 per cent of the existing fleet compared to 30 per cent for cellular containerships. This figure was unlikely to grow at more than 2.5 per cent per year in the foreseeable future, the report said. Even with the cellular fleet growing at this conservative rate, containerships would capture more than 50 per cent of reefer capacity by 2000, it said. The report said the provision of capacity and its effective utilisation had to be viewed separately. Indications are that reefer ship operators are achieving higher load factors than the container lines - despite structural inefficiencies caused by the pronounced seasonality of many fruit trades with which reefer ships must to contend. The report also said reefer containership capacity was easily underestimated, since the use of 40 ft boxes (including high-cube units) to service deck-points potentially offered substantial additional and largely unrecorded cargo-carrying space. Despite these two factors, however, the estimated 50 per cent or more of reefer capacity operated by container lines in 1996 carried only about 42 per cent of global reefer cargo. The report said this indicated that the liner sector was under-performing against its modal rival. Nevertheless, reefer ship operators could expect container lines to continue their expansion, not just because of inevitable deterioration in the capacity balance but because of important trade and commodity trends which would increasingly favour container shipment on many routes. Those areas where the reefer container most clearly held the advantage - east-west and transpacific routes - were likely to be the largest growth markets in the next 10 years, with Asia leading the way. The rate of reefer traffic transfer could also be increased if the full intermodal capability of reefer containers was exploited, the report said.