Bringing Cold Cargo into Australia via Sea Freight: What Service Options are Available to You?

If you’re an importer seeking to bring cold cargo into Australia, there are many options available. You may be thinking about importing chilled meat, dairy or other goods requiring refrigeration. Below, we’ll look at how you can bring large volumes of cargo into Australia via sea freight. We’ll provide a brief overview of importing refrigerated cargo including; temperature-controlled shipping, refrigerated containers and what services are available.

Why do I need temperature-controlled shipping?

If you’re shipping perishable items overseas, temperature-controlled shipping is a must. There’s nothing worse than shipping expensive, perishable cargo across the world, only to find it destroyed when it arrives at your final destination. It’s been reported that 30 percent of food production is wasted because it fails to arrive at its destination in an edible form.

Ensure you distinguish perishable cargo from your non-perishable cargo. The more influence that temperature will have on the stability of your goods, the more impact it will have on the overall cost in your supply chain. Whilst standard shipping options will be okay for less sensitive goods, this will not always be the case for cold cargo.

Having temperature-controlled shipping won’t only protect your goods from extreme temperatures of humidity, it will also extend your items’ shelf-life, allowing you greater access to more products across the globe.

What is a reefer and how does it work?

A “reefer container” (or simply, reefer) is a shortened term for “refrigerated container”.

Refrigerated Container model

Reefers look virtually the same as a normal container, but they include a refrigeration unit to regulate the temperature of the container. Reefers are great for transporting all forms of cold cargo, whether they be fruit, meat, fish, or pharmaceutical goods. Not only can you cool cargo, but you can also warm it up too where required.

These portable refrigerators can maintain temperatures between -35°C and +35°C no matter what the conditions are outside. This is done by directing air underneath the cargo through what is called “T-shaped decking”, designed especially to ensure air is able to flow across your entire shipment. Internally, reefers are smaller than normal containers due to the refrigeration unit.

If you’re transporting chilled cargo, air flows through the cargo so heat and gases are removed. The cartons you use in your shipment will need ventilation.

If you’re shipping frozen cargo, air must flow around the cargo. There should be no gaps between the cargo or gaps between the reefer walls and the cargo, so it must be block stowed.

Reefers benefit from a regular supply of electricity, typically provided by either portable electricity generators or by a ship’s power outlet. Control units on the container itself allow you to adjust temperature, humidity and ventilation.

Tips when transporting cold cargo in reefers

container reefer inspection

There are several guidance tips you should follow when using reefers for your international shipping:

  • Before packing your reefer, make sure it is clean and ensure you correctly set the temperature, humidity and ventilation. Also ensure your cargo is at a temperature matching transport temperature.
  • During the packing of your reefer, make sure the power unit is switched off and don’t stack any boxes above the load line. Also make efforts to ensure there is no space between cargo units in front of the unit air distribution point. This will all facilitate an efficient air flow.
  • After the operation, close reefer doors properly and make sure you correctly set the point for carrying temperature, humidity and ventilation. Once done, take a photo of the temperature set as evidence should anything change in transit.

Which services use reefers to ship cargo?

Many shipping lines offer reefer containers and transport solutions. Below, we’ve listed some of our favourites:


MSC cargo vessel

MSC has an extensive, internationally renowned reefer fleet, along with expert reefer teams to assist with the smooth flow of operations. Their team is highly experienced in transporting chilled and frozen goods, such as meat, dairy, poultry and fish, having shipped 1.8 million TEU of reefer cargo throughout 2019.

Their coverage expands all around the world, and they can monitor your shipment from the beginning to the end of the shipping journey.

Cosco Shipping

COSCO cargo Containers

Cosco also operates a global network of reefers, helping clients transport their goods from Point A to Point B with care and expertise. They’ll make sure that your reefer is clean and in excellent condition prior to the cargo being shipped.

At the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic, Cosco Shipping was reported to ship 9,572 TEU from Canada signalling the start of shipping the first batch of chilled pork purchased by COFCO to support epidemic control in Wuhan, China. The company used forty 40-feet high reefers, providing a service of 4-5 containers each week.


one shipping line

Ocean Network Express (ONE), which emerged from three Japanese liners, has made a strong market foothold in the international reefer market. The network capitalises on the Japanese shippers’ expertise, and takes full advantage of a modern reefer fleet and market-leading cargo care.

In May 2020, ONE announced the addition of 5,000 new reefer containers to their fleet, with state-of-the-art Controlled Atmosphere (CA) technology. The company announced its commitment to servicing the demand for perishable cargo transport, as its new addition follows its previous purchase of 6,000 reefer units in 2019.


maersk reefers

Maersk is the world’s largest shipping service, boasting over 300 years of reefer expertise. They utilise modern Remote Container Management technology to assist importers and exporters to monitor the conditions of their cargo inside the container at each stage of the shipping process.

Their reefers are able to send satellite messages with updates on temperature, humidity and carbon dioxide levels to Maersk’s Reefer Tower, the port of arrival, importers, exporters and other parties in the supply chain.

Take out Marine Insurance when Shipping Temperature-Controlled Cargo

Despite the presence of highly experienced shipping companies that use state-of-the-art reefer technology, things do still go wrong.

There will always be a risk of damaged or destroyed cargo, and that risk increases when shipping perishable items. There are still cases of poultry, dairy, meat and other chilled goods arriving at their destination completely unusable.

Ensure you take out a marine insurance policy when shipping your cargo that adequately covers the risks you’ll face when transporting goods overseas.

How COVID-19 has Impacted Temperature controlled shipping

refrigerated containers on yard

The COVID-19 pandemic has created what some have called a “container storage crisis“. Reefers and ordinary containers, due to a skyrocketing backlog, have been piling up at ports across the world.

The pandemic has also led to the increased presence of “empties” (i.e. empty containers). Container yards in ports across the country are completely full of empties that would have been shipped back to origin countries such as China. But with shipping companies’ reduced capacity, and in some cases cancellation of their services (including Maersk in Port Botany), these empties remain.

The standstill has meant transport operators are facing the imposition of detention and demurrage (D&D) charges due to the inability to return their containers. Container Transport Alliance Australia (CTAA) has called for shipping lines to provide container detention relief, as importers and exporters face increasing uncertainty throughout the crisis.

Despite this, it’s also been reported that the reefer sector has shown “amazing resilience”. Global reefer trade reportedly increased by over 4 percent, with China being the “star performer” and pork being the leading commodity for China’s imports of perishable goods.

Questions about reefers?

Inside a refrigerated container

If you’ve got any further questions about reefers and temperature-controlled shipping, please don’t hesitate to contact our expert freight forwarders at International Cargo Express.

Our expert team has developed decades of combined experience advising importers and exporters on the best way to ship chilled and frozen goods via sea freight.

Please get in touch with us today to post a comment below.

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What Others Are Saying About International Cargo Express

Managed goods end to end

Due to critical stock levels we needed a fast solution to urgently meet growing client demand. Presented with this challenge, ICE quickly identified appropriate freighter services and proactively managed the movement of goods end to end.

Eddie Liaw – Supply Chain Director

ICE offered flexibility

ICE offered flexibility, high levels of communication and attention to detail during our pick, pack and delivery project. With their professional support we were able to meet the demands of our supply chain knowing our freight was in safe hands.

Tony Kealy – National Distribution Manager

Without exception and on time

Since having International Cargo Express handle my ocean freight , I have had my bookings and equipment available without exception and on time. Communication between ICE and my supplier is very good and I receive information via my shipper before my supplier.

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