By Gavin van Marle

The launch of the latest claimant to the title of “the world’s largest container vessel” is approaching as construction of the first of Maersk’s Triple-E class nears completion.

At a press tour of the enormous Daewoo Shipbuilding (DSME) shipyard in Okpo Bay, on the South Korean island of Geoje, Maersk executives told The Loadstar that sea trials of the first vessel were just weeks away.

In a ceremony that took place on June 14, the first of the Triple-E series vessels was named Mærsk Mc-Kinney Møller, after the late owner of the company, who passed away last year at the age of 98.

The handover from the shipyard to Maersk was scheduled for June 28. The ship is subsequently expected to sail to Vladivostok for bunkering, where ship fuel prices are understood to be very competitive with established fuel hubs.

After that, the vessels will come thick and fast, with approximately one out of a remaining total of 19 delivered every six weeks until June 2015.

The first unit will be phased into service on July 14, coinciding with the recent decision to include the South Korean container hub of Busan as the first call on the line’s Asia-Europe AE10 service, which runs all the way to the Polish port of Gdansk, via south-east Asia and northern Europe.

Maersk Korea President Thomas Lindy Sorensen said that there had been a lot of interest. “The introduction of Busan on the AE10 service has a real impact on our ability to win more cargo from Korea to Europe because a direct service is always more attractive.

“Shippers love having no transshipment – all they need is one bad experience with transshipped cargo and it can become a decisive factor when they tender for ocean freight,” he told The Loadstar.

The service already calls at the South Korean port of Gwangyang, where it is used by shippers in the Seoul/Incheon area, either via a feeder service out of Incheon, or through haulage.

Mr. Sorensen said Maersk had overtaken Korean carriers Hanjin and Hyundai to become the largest liner operator in the country in 2010, and now has a market share of 17.5 per cent of containerized export volumes and 13 per cent of import volumes, equating to some 800,000 TEUs per year.

There are currently eight Emma Maersk-class vessels on the AE10, supported “by four slightly smaller vessels, so the Triple-E vessels will replace these smaller vessels, which will then cascade to other routes or be returned to owners if on charter”. Mr. Sorensen also argued that the capacity impact of the Triple-E will be less than is perceived.

“In 2013 there will be something like an extra five or six trips undertaken by Triple-E vessels, which in the big picture is hardly anything, because they are only 2,500 TEUs more than the Emma-class,” he said.

He admitted that the timing of the introduction of the new vessels could hardly be less ideal but argued that in the long run they would soak up market growth.

Mr. Sorensen also said that there is an expectation at Maersk that the second half of the year may see better trade figures. “In the second half we hope to see stronger growth, partly because the second half of last year was so weak. This will probably go into 2014 although what happens after that is anyone’s guess.”

In Busan, the ship will call at the DP World-operated Pusan New Port Container Terminal, although the one potential sticking point is that pilots in the port have yet to sign off on handling the vessel, although given that it is the same length as the current Emma-class this is thought to be unlikely to be much of an issue. The first AE10 vessel to call at the port was the 15,500-TEU Ebba Maersk.

South Korea was one of the few countries that actually increased exports to Europe last year, registering a year-on-year growth of 7 per cent. China too saw growth, at a more modest 1 per cent, while Hong Kong, Thailand and Malaysia all witnessed double-digit declines.

By way of example, one major automobile shipper has been using the AE10 service to ship components out of South Korea to Gdansk, where they are transshipped for onward transport to Russia, Mr. Sorensen said.

Kindly reprinted courtesy of The Loadstar (www.theloadstar.co.uk)