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AMSTERDAM: A report by Seabury Cargo Advisory says 15.2 million tonnes of air cargo has migrated to ocean transport since 2000. As a result, airfreight traffic has grown 2.6 percent a year instead of 7.3 percent.

Maersk perishablesAccording to Seabury maritime advisor Derek Brand, the equivalent shift of 1.5 million TEUs to ocean carriage since the beginning of the Millennium is due to three reasons: a rise in raw materials typically transported by ocean rather than air; a growth of lower end versions of a product, which is a more likely candidate for sea freight; and products that used to be shipped by air and now shipped by ocean.

Brand says that of the 15.2 million tonnes total, 5.4 million is modal shift – with perishables such as tomatoes, capsicum, fresh fish, lettuce and pineapples leading the way. He thinks the introduction of new technology will further encourage this trend as it can slow down the ripening process and open up ocean transport as a viable alternative to air cargo on longer trade routes.

"While mode shift has largely stabilised with traditional reefer containers, new technology has the potential to be an engine for growth. What will be very interesting to watch will be the extent to which longer trade lanes grow once ocean transport becomes a viable option."

Brand suggests the Caribbean and South America to Northern Europe are two lanes currently reliant on airfreight for perishables that could switch to ocean due to a combination of new technology and poor economics. "Once ocean transport becomes a possibility, some markets may open up quite a bit, dramatically changing the trade structure for these commodities," he adds.

With its experience ripening avocadoes in a 40ft reefer from Kenya to Europe, Seabury's conclusions should be good news for Maersk and bad news for beans by airfreight.

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