Despite the Gloom New Container Ship Orders Will be for More Giant Vessels

Sulphur Cap and the Demands of Cooperation Will Spur Newbuilds

WORLDWIDE – When Danish group Maersk Line announced in 2011 it had ordered the first of the mega box vessels with the building of the Triple E series, it marked a watershed in containership design. At circa 18,000 TEU news of these giants was received with a variety of reactions, culminating in a host of maritime rivals following suit.

The extra capacity has had a startling effect on the shipping of ocean container freight and has caused the current penchants for both slow steaming and alliances. The former also of course assisting the claims from the lines that they are reducing emissions and saving fuel, the knock on effect being that boxes on the water longer, means more on the quay for the next vessel. The latter forcing executives who formerly had looked sideways at the competition, to join hands with former rivals and sing each other’s praises in a bid to ensure maximum efficiency.

It seems however that the naysayers who thought the age of ever larger box ships was at an end may have to think again. At the moment, and possibly for some to come, it looks like big is indeed beautiful, especially when one is faced with replacing an ageing fleet of smaller craft. According to a Wall Street Journal source not one, but two, of the world’s largest container lines, are currently actively seeking quotes for their next big ship purchases.

German based Hapag Lloyd, no stranger to network cooperation having a feeder arrangement set up with Ocean Network Express (ONE), and also part of ‘THE Alliance’, and Taiwanese Evergreen Line, member of the OCEAN Alliance, are both said to be asking shipyards in Asia for prices to supply around six and eight or nine vessels respectively. Talk is of 23,000 TEU and the likelihood is that the lines are forced to place orders to replace ships which will almost certainly, without expensive upgrading, fail the demands of the IMO sulphur cap which comes into force next year.

Lines can only maintain their place within an alliance or vessel sharing agreement if the hardware lives up to the promises and the sulphur cap is causing all the operators to look hard at the various mechanisms to deal with this. New builds, with built in scrubbing technology, or even better, which run on cleaner fuels, will be necessary to maintain services.

It is now over a year since any of the major lines decided on a purchase of any size, at that time it was Hyundai Merchant Marine which signed up for 20 ships, and nerves will surely be jangling in the offices of shipbuilders in Japan, South Korea and China. Competition for the orders will be fierce and will work to the buyer’s advantage.