The Banana Route | by Thomas Lebano

Maurizio GaripoliBy Maurizio Garipoli23 October 202216 Minutes

In this article, Thomas Lebano tells us about his experience aboard ships that transport fruit. An exciting story for everyone that can undoubtedly be useful to Official Students who approach this type of traffic.

Throughout the year, we have the free choice of going to the supermarket or shops to buy almost any fruit.

But why do we have all this availability?

Some fruits, to grow, need specific climatic conditions and can ripen only at a certain temperature; it must be hot and raining a lot, typical of the tropics.

As we all know, goods move by air, land and sea.

Transport by sea is used to cover large distances and is suitable for non-perishable goods: it is generally cheaper but also slower than the other two. The time can vary from a few days to months, depending on the distance and available services. A positive aspect is that this type of transport allows you to move large quantities of materials compared to competitors by land and air.

For shipping companies, once the goods have arrived in the Port, one of the most significant difficulties is the need to build an adequate connection with the hinterland.

Sea transport is the most popular method of transporting goods worldwide and the ideal means of transport for long distances and large international loads, of course, if the Company has a turnover that can cover the costs of the service.

After completing four shipments of banana boats equipped with refrigerated holds, I learned a lot. I clarified how it is possible to transport tons of fruit and make it arrive at its destination before it is fully ripe.

More than many words to give the idea of progress. Sometimes a photograph is enough.

1963, PUNA’ DI QUAYAQUIL (Ecuador) – Loading of bananas on the Italian ship MARCO POLO – Società Italia di Navigazione. At that time, the ships were loaded by shoulders (see photo above); each bunch of bananas weighed 30-50 kg.

This article is only to inform the reader about the methods applied by my shipping company; procedures may vary on similar ships, but the results, I believe, are the same as are the voyages in tropical seas.

The following diagram gives us an idea of the sequence necessary to bring the fruits from the production places to the market.

  • Initially, all the fruit is within a large plantation. When it is still unripe but of the right size, the bunch is cut manually, after which, through a pulley system, the bunches of bananas go to the packing centre, where they are checked and boxed.
  • Subsequently, the load moves on trucks to the quay of the Port where, with the ship docked, the loading and unloading operations begin.
  • Finished the commercial operations, the ship began the voyage. Specific crew members, which we will now get to know, have the task of controlling the temperatures of the holds and containers. This operation is performed by the deck cadet and the electrician assistant, checking the temperatures for each container twice a day, at 08:00 and 4:00 p.m. The refrigerated load is very delicate and requires high-level specialized professionals.
  • During the voyage, it is necessary to monitor the temperature, ventilation and the percentage of CO2 in the holds. The variation of these values ​​can cause premature ripening causing the deterioration of the goods. On the other hand, the expedition’s purpose is to get the fruit in the right conditions on the tables of families in excellent quality conditions.
  • Finally, once unload the goods from the ship are at the Port of destination, it begins its journey through the various buyers. They have requested the load, including independent shops and supermarkets.

Cosiarma has four owned ships, the ‘Cale Rosse’ (Cala Palma, Cala Pino, Cala Pedra, Cala Pula), each with a load capacity of 10,360 pallets in cold storage and 560 TEUs on deck.

  • Ships Particulars

    IMO Number 9164782
    Ship’s Name CALA PEDRA
    Vessel Type Refrigerated Cargo Ship
    Flag Italy
    Own Port Vado Ligure
    Gross Tonnage 14868
    DWT (t) 16024
    Length Overall (m) 190
    Breadth (m) 24



    I’m aboard a container Port launched in 1998, accompanied by three sister ships usually called “CALE”.

    All four ships make journeys lasting 35 days, visiting the following ports:

    Outward journey

    • Vado Ligure…………….…. (Italy)
    • Tarragona……………….…. (Spain)
    • Rio Haina…………………… (Dominican Republic)
    • Turbo………………………… (Columbia)
    • Moin – Porto terminus.. (Costa Rica).

    Return trip

    • Setubal ……………………… (Portugal)
    • Vado Ligure………………… (Italy)

    End and beginning of a new journey.

    The CHARTERING of these ships consists mainly of carrying large loads of bananas and pineapples. I use the term “mainly” because the vessel is a container carrier and can also transport quantities of dry cargo, that is, solid, non-perishable goods.

    The most marked difference between this type of ship and the modern FULL-CONTAINER is that the former is not FULL – which means that the Containers are not stowed below deck but only above it. At the same time, all the remaining fruit load is loaded inside the holds, i.e. on the decks below the main deck.

    In “terrestrial” words, these are real planes placed vertically.

    These holds, to facilitate identification, are called from the top; ALFA, BRAVO, CHARLIE and DELTA.

    Each of these decks has three different numbered rooms from bow to stern.

    The arrangement of the decks is as follows:

    Ship’s Deck


    1. 2.      1.            ALFA


    1. 2.       1.           BRAVO


    1. 2.       1.           CHARLIE


    1. 2.       1.            DELTA


    Each numbered room is individually divided by sliding doors, rectangular doors which, using a piston, open and close horizontally.

    Sliding door

    Behind the posts at the bottom, you can see the piston that guides the “door” in the opening and closing phases.

    The Sliding Door has the function of separating cargoes for different destinations and preventing water passages in case of a leak in the double hull. The Sliding Doors also have the role of fire doors to prevent the spread of fires. These rooms are huge and require the protection of a CO2 system.

    Inside these holds, loads of fruit are arranged precisely and schematically over wooden pallets that can support just over 1,000 kg.

    Wooden Pallets

    They are square in shape and load about 50 stacked fruit boxes; the number depends on the size of the containers. Once packed, they have a compact shell. Then, through transpallets and forklifts used to transport one or two pallets, they are inserted, without leaving any spaces, along the bulkheads to fill the entire hold.

    It is necessary to stow the pallets compactly and without free spaces to avoid damage in the event of the ship rolling and pitching in bad weather.

    Here we are sailing along the coast of Sardinia. The anemometer showed nearly 80 knots of wind.

    The Sardinian coast sight from the Bridge.

    Therefore, the more compact the load, the less it risks being damaged by falling or hitting the bulkheads. In addition, for safety, the goods are raised with lashing bars.

    Materiale di rizzaggio



    The holds can contain about 6,000 pallets, while on deck, refrigerated containers can reach 250, and each container can have 20 pallets.

    The following image shows how the pallets are inside the hold.

    The following image:

    shows the trunk of one of the two side-loads, first at the bow and second at the stern. You can see the decks connected to the holds, while at the top, you can see the platform, which, moving vertically, moves the pallets of the lift to the various floors. Once at the desired level, the pallets “walk” on a series of rollers called Conveyors controlled by an operator. Finally, an unloader transfers the pallets from the rollers to the area of interest -depending on the destination.

    During loading the holds, the operator’s task is to check how to position the pallets, ensure that the right amount of goods are stored in the correct position, and mark the amount and the brand.


    We can say that containers have various sizes and different functionalities; for example, the one in the photo is a reefer container or fridge container. This one, in particular, is the highest container type of high cube type. It works like a standard fridge and can contain a maximum of twenty pallets.

    40ft high cube container size:

    Length: 12 metres and 19 centimetres

    Breadth: 2 metres e 43 centimetres

    High: 2 metres e 89 centimetres

    Depending on the Port, containers are loaded by two cranes on deck or by Pacheco gantry cranes installed on the quay.

    On-board crane

    The first crane you notice is the one on board. It has a maximum capacity of 43 tons.

    The next photo shows a gantry crane called Paceco, which is much more precise and faster. The onboard cranes are essential in smaller ports where Paceco are not present.

    Gantry Crane

    A panel of a refrigerated container on which the display shows the set temperature and the one delivered inside is visible.

    A look at safety.

    The crew’s safety is a priority and is safeguarded at all times in Port and during navigation!

    Everybody must pay much attention during loading, lashing, sailing and unloading. Everything must be organized, planned and managed without errors because every good is insured, and if it arrives damaged, the Company lose a part of its Company fits.

    In addition to the cargo, since the corrosive effects of the salty sea carried by the wind, currents and continuous exposure to the sun act on the ship, the crew must also consider the ship’s maintenance.

    Last but not least is the safety of navigation. The Captain, if necessary, but above all the deck officers, carry out three guard shifts on the bridge, covering 24 hours so that navigation always proceeds safely.

    The following photo shows the traffic situation near the Strait of Gibraltar and the level of attention that the crew must maintain on the bridge.

    The Strait of Gibraltar is nearby.

    The most “delicate” moments of our trip are the harbour manoeuvres, the Strait of Gibraltar passage, the entry into the Caribbean Sea and the encounter with the flow of ships in both directions of the Panama Canal.

    During ocean navigation, it is necessary to pay close attention to the rain showers that often conceal the presence of fishing boats, sometimes unpredictable in their movements. However, navigation nowadays enjoys many safety devices and valuable tools to safely guide the ship, such as electronic maps visible through the ECDIS, GPS, ECO-SOUNDERS and RADARS.

    Unfortunately, there are still many dangers and accidents: environmental and non-environmental, fires, leaks, explosions and collisions are the order of the day at every latitude and longitude in all seas. For this reason, we must always keep maximum attention on board which, to be effective, must be supported by passion and a sense of duty. For us young beginners, this profession is a teacher of life because it teaches us not to neglect the details and to take responsibility.

    I conclude by thanking the Masters, Officers and crews I had the honour to know, with whom I worked and lived during this period as a cadet and, above all, for what they taught me, from work to behaviour, to respect for the rules.
    A heartfelt thanks also go to my family, particularly to my grandfather, Captain Carlo Gatti and to a family friend, Master Nunzio Catena, who has always followed, written and helped me. 

    Thomas Lebano

    In a future article, we will describe the fascinating management of fruit in Costa Rica: from plantations to boarding ships.