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. Two initiatives were taken to add to the tramp, tanker, and liner activities:
A 5-year charter party was signed for the transportation of bananas from Cameroun to France, and in 1936 the first reefer vessel joined the Maersk fleet. Unfortunate timing meant that FRANCINE was only used once in the trade and attempts to use the vessel in other fruit trades proved to be unprofitable.
To tackle the winter weather impact on the smaller tramp vessels, attempts were made to deploy them in the Mediterranean from early November to mid-April. In 1934, a few steam ships had fans and ventilators installed to improve conditions for the cargoes of oranges and grapefruits. This never evolved into a regular liner service, but in 1937 GUDRUN MÆRSK and ROBERT MÆRSK joined the reefer fleet with specially ventilated cargo holds. This activity stopped with the outbreak of the Second World War and it would be more than 20 years before another attempt was made at the reefer trade.
It was in the transportation of reefer containers that Maersk would finally make an impact -
In 1975, Maersk placed an order for 500 reefer containers, a record order at the time, signifying Maersk’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.
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.