Global reefer trade surpassed 221 million tonnes in the year 2016 with an annual growth rate of 3.2% over the past decade. The seaborne trade of perishable commodities has only kept on growing since the first time a refrigerated cargo of 80 tons of mutton arrived in perfect condition to the port of Le Havre, France in the year 1878. The refrigerated steamer PARAGUAY ‘s successful voyage from Buenos Aires to Le Havre, was to signal the beginning of the seaborne reefer business. 


Some of the first cargo liners built specifically for the newly established Line in 1928, were fitted with refrigerated cargo holds. Pictured here is PETER MÆRSK built in 1932.


The first time Maersk ventured into the reefer trade was in the mid- 1930s, when A. P. Møller wanted to expand his shipping business with specialised reefer vessels. A.P. Møller signed a 5-year charter party for the transportation of bananas from Cameroun to France and acquired the company’s first reefer vessel FRANCINE in 1936. Unfortunate timing meant that FRANCINE was only used in the trade once and attempts to use the vessel in other fruit trades also proved to be unprofitable. FRANCINE was sold after only a year and it would be 25 years before another attempt at the reefer trade was made.


FRANCINE, the first specialised reefer vessel acquired by the company. Built at Odense Steel Shipyard with a refrigerated cargo capacity of around 175,000 cubic feet. Delivered in the 1936, but sold again to Danish shipping company J.Lauritzen the following year.


The second attempt came in 1961 with the new-build specialised reefer DRAGØR MÆRSK and a little later the sister ships THURØ MÆRSK and MAGLEBY MÆRSK delivered in 1964. But again, it turned out to be very difficult for Maersk to compete in the reefer trade with only a few ships and with lack of experience and customer contacts. It was therefore decided to charter the reefer ships to the Swedish shipping company Salén who was a leading operator in the field at the time.

840-Magleby-1964Vertical conveyor belt lifting a shipment of bananas out of the cargo holds on MAGLEBY MÆRSK and directly onto the nearby train.


 It was in the transportation of reefer containers that Maersk Line would finally make an impact. In 1975, Maersk Line placed an order for 500 reefer containers, a record order at the time, signifying Maersk Line’s entry into the containerised reefer trade as well as the dry container trade.

The A-class ships designed specifically for the containerisation of the USA-ASIA service in 1975, were fitted with only ten reefer plugs as predictions showed they would only be used 20 per cent of the time.

Maersk Line’s reefer container capacity continued to grow organically through the 1970s and 1980s and by 1986, an average of 160 reefer plugs were available on Maersk Line’s 28 container vessels – equivalent to approximately 5 per cent of world reefer capacity at the time.


Early generation of reefer containers ca. 1960-65. Current market indications show that containership fleets will continue to grow while specialised reefer vessels will decline. 


In 1989, Maersk Line’s reefer management team was formed, signifying that the reefer business had truly become a focus area for Maersk Line and within a couple of years, mid-1990s, Maersk Line had the single largest reefer container fleet in the busines

The 1990s are also characterised by the company’s many major acquisitions including the EAC-Ben Line in 1993, Safmarine and Sea-Land in 1999, with the latter being especially renowned for its reefer service. Sea-Land introduced the first generation of reefer containers in the 1960s and operated integral reefers from the early 1970s.


Sea-Land reefer ca. late 1960s or early 1970s. First generation of reefers, where the cooling unit is fitted inside the frame.


Since the 1990s, Maersk Lines reefer container fleet has continued to grow, not least with the acquisition of P&O Nedlloyd in 2005 and the recent integration of Hamburg Süd. Today, a quarter of the worlds reefer containers are moved on our network today.


Fresh off the production line – a brand new reefer container from Maersk Container Industry fitted with a StarCool unit.


The technology behind refrigerated transportation has been developed and refined ever since the first successful refrigerated voyage took place in 1878. But the latest innovation, developed by Maersk, is the introduction of the Remote Container Management system (RCM), providing our customers with end-to-end transparency and the ability to monitor temperature, humidity, CO2 levels, while also being able to keep track of the containers location.

Maersk Line 90 years

Maerskline has been in business for 90 years, from break-bulk to containers. The first voyage was on 12 July 1928. Explore the full story below.


Part 1 – Beginnings

1928 saw the initiative that has evolved into today’s Maersk Line.

Part 2 – Expansion

Today, we connect all corners of the world and port calls happen several times every hour, but it all started with one route and monthly departures in 1928…

Part 3 – Container

Boxes for the transport of goods came in many forms before 1956, but it widely recognized that containerisation as a concept was initiated when Malcom McLean shipped 58 containers from Newark, New Jersey, on 26 April 1956.

Part 4 – Logistics

Maersk’s entry into logistics started in 1977, two years after the introduction of the containerized service on the USA-Asia route.

Part 5 – Special Cargo

Maersk Line has moved special cargo since well before the container was introduced and we still do.

Part 6 – IT and Systems

From the early 1980’s, MCS (Maersk Communications System) made it possible “to communicate globally.

Part 7 – Refrigerated Containers

Global reefer trade surpassed 221 million tonnes in the year 2016 with an annual growth rate of 3.2% over the past decade.

Part 8 – Terminals

In 2016, world container port throughput reached 701 million TEUs. With the top 40 container ports handling almost 60 percent of the world total.

Part 9 – Growth in the world economy

Today’s trade is global. Since the first sea-borne container transport took place in 1956, the shipping and logistics industry has been one of the main facilitators of the globalisation of trade.

Part 10 – Branding

The white seven-pointed star on a blue background has represented Maersk since its very formation in 1904. Along with our distinctive blue colour, terminals, vessels and containers across the world have been showcasing our name and logo since the very beginning.

Learn more about Maersk and containerisation