MAERSK Line is joining the ranks of containership operators now in discussion with yards about newbuilding orders, with the Danish carrier expressing interest in a new generation of vessels with capacity well in excess of anything currently in service.
One broker said last week that Maersk had asked yards to tender for 10 ships of 16,000 teu, a report played down by other market sources as premature.
Nevertheless, Maersk is talking to yards in both South Korea and China as it prepares to resume is fleet replenishment programme after a gap of some two years.
Containership ordering came to a standstill during the worst of the global recession, with the industry struggling to absorb the vast number of vessels that were contracted in 2007 and early 2008 before cargo volumes suddenly collapsed.
But with demand recovering, and the orderbook shrinking in relative terms after the long standstill, lines now feel more confident about embarking on another round of newbuilding activity.
Both Evergreen and Neptune Orient Lines have already signed orders, while tonnage provider Seaspan said last week it also was ready to sign newbuilding contracts, but only if the the yards developed more innovative designs and cut their prices.
The trio is not alone in determining that the time is right to re-open communications with shipbuilders, with Maersk one of several major carriers that has asked for design specifications and provisional price quotes, and very big ships said to be top of its shopping list.
Maersk pioneered the super-sized containership, with Emma Maersk the first of a new class of vessel with nominal capacity of well over 14,000 teu.
That vessel and seven sisterships, built by AP Moller-Maersk’s Odense shipyard, were delivered between 2006 and 2008. Other lines are only just catching up, with Mediterranean Shipping Co taking delivery this year of its first 14,000 teu ships, and CMA CGM now receiving its 13,800 teu newbuildings.
Should Maersk Line make its move in the coming months to step up to another class, it would maintain a competitive edge over its closest rivals.
“It is some time since Maersk ordered large ships,” said one observer. So while discussions are said to be at a fairly early stage and not yet down to specifics such as price, Maersk is undoubtedly preparing for the next round of contracting that will almost certainly include a new series of mega-ships.
There are no technical barriers to building ships larger than those in operation today. Blueprints for the so-called Malacca-max class, with nominal capacity of around 18,000 teu, were developed more than a decade ago.