UK-based Africa Express Line (AEL) has reportedly placed an order for four conventional reefer vessels with Japan’s Kitanihon Shipbuilding.

No price is revealed for the 16,000-dwt ships which will carry 100 reefers containers on deck.

But delivery of the 630,000 cubic feet (cbf) vessels is expected to take place in 2024 and 2025, according to Alphaliner.

AEL, a subsidiary of Marseilles-based agricultural producer Compagnie Fruitiere, could not be reached for confirmation of the deal.

The company specialises in the fast transport of perishables exports from West Africa to Europe using a chartered fleet of reefers up to 16,700-dwt.

AEL operates the vessel in two weekly liner services linking West Africa to Northern Europe and the Mediterranean.

The fleet includes the 13,900-dwt Caribbean Star (built 1997) and three sisters that are approaching 25 years of age.

Rare order

Orders of conventional reefers are increasingly rare as many operators switch to shipping perishable produce in reefer container vessels.

In June, Dutch reefer specialist Seatrade inked an order for four 1,800-teu high-reefer container ships with Huanghai Shipbuilding of China for delivery in 2023 and 2024.

Other fruit exporters including Fresh Del Monte Produce have also taken delivery in recent years of six high-reefer container ships for its ocean logistics arm Network Shipping (NWS).

But there remains demand for conventional reefer tonnage in niche trades and Kitanihon is an established builder of reefer tonnage, said Alphaliner.

In 2020 and 2021, the Japanese yard delivered three 12,350-dwt/570,000 cbf reefers to compatriot owner Sentoku Senpaku.

The three vessels were designed specifically for the New Zealand-East Asia trade, with a focus on kiwi fruit.