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Keeping it cool

Keeping it cool: reefers and fruiters
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Keeping it cool: reefers and fruiters

Refrigerator ships

Ships for carrying refrigerated cargoes have a long history.  In the late 19th century the farmers of Australia, New Zealand and South America were anxious to get their meat to market in Europe in good condition during a voyage which could take several months.  The answer was to chill or refrigerate the meat, and install refrigeration equipment on the ship to keep it in that condition until it could be unloaded in Europe.  For almost a hundred years, many of the cargo liners serving these trades had extensive refrigerated holds.  Indeed, some ships carried little other than frozen meat.  The title ‘refrigerator ship’ was quickly abbreviated to ‘reefer’.  

Bringing the fruit home

Fruit ships have an even longer history.  In the 19th century, small, fast sailing ships were used to bring oranges, lemons and other fruit from the Mediterranean to Northern Europe.  Fast steam- and later diesel-friven fruit ships began to be built around 1900 especially to carry bananas from Central America to North America and Europe.  Other than speed these ships had no special characteristics other than well-ventilated holds, as the bananas are picked unripe and allowed to ripen during the voyage.

Container reefers

In the last fifty years, many ships have been built as reefers as international trade has grown in other forms of fruit, and in other foodstuffs such as frozen fish.  These reefers have to some extent replaced the traditional cargo liner with its partly-refrigerated holds.  However, much of the regular shipments of frozen and chilled products are handled by container ships with facilities to carry containers which have built-in refrigeration equipment.  Electrical power to operate this equipment is provided by the ship.

Ships and our diet

Reefers and fruiters have enabled those in westernised countries to enjoy foods simply not available at home all the year round.  They have stimulated developments in agriculture round the world.  Like other types of ships, they make a major contribution to how we live. 

Keeping it cool: reefers and fruiters
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