MARITIME | Small boxships squeezed out by newbuilds

Leeway to switch vessels into lower-volume trades may be near its limit

Janet Porter | LLOYD’S LIST

CONTAINER lines may be running out of options to control the impact of large boxships now entering service by switching smaller ships to other trades.

The number of 8,000 teu boxships deployed on the Pacific has grown enormously in recent years as vessels of this size were replaced in the Asia-Europe trades by the new generation of super post-panamaxes.

Clarkson Research estimates that 65 ships of 8,000 teu capacity were being operated in the transpacific trades at the start of July, compared with just 10 in the summer of 2007.

The increase in deployment of larger vessels in the Asia-US trades also was accompanied by a reduction in deployment of other vessel sizes.

This was particularly noticeable in the 3,000 teu-3,999 teu vessel sector, Clarksons notes in its latest Container Intelligence Monthly, with a fall from 79 to 22 ships of that size during the three-year period. These vessels were transferred to smaller volume trades, laid up or sold for scrap.

That trend was also apparent in the Asia -Europe trades, where deployment of ships in excess of 8,000 teu rose from 117 in July 2007 to 209 by last month, while there was a decrease in the use of 3,000 teu-3,999 teu ships from 68 to 21. This cascading of ships onto smaller-volume trades partly reduced the impact of the influx of high-capacity boxships, says Clarksons.

On the Pacific, the addition of 472,025 teu of capacity from new 8,000 teu vessels between July 2007 and 2010 was offset with the removal of 69% of that capacity via 2,000 teu -4,999 teu tonnage.

Similarly, capacity additions from ships of 8,000 teu or more in the Asia-Europe trades was balanced in part by the withdrawal of of 29% of that capacity via 2,000-4,999 teu ships.

The remaining capacity addition on these trades was absorbed where possible by slow steaming, and the addition of extra vessels into service loops.

But the scope to juggle the fleet this way so as to minimise the effect of the new super-sized ships now being built may be approaching its limit, Clarkson says.

“The continued ability to cascade is dependent on the number of smaller vessels available to redeploy from main lane trades,” Clarksons notes.

“With the number of 2,000 teu -4,999 teu vessels having declined between July 2007 and 2010 by 79% and 49% on the transpacific and Far East-Europe trades respectively, the successful absorption of further deliveries will likely depend heavily on increased demand.”

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