By Mike Wackett

MSC is reportedly finalizing an order for eleven 22,000 TEU ships, joining CMA CGM in reactivating the orderbook for ultra-large container vessels (ULCVs), according to Alphaliner. They represent the first orders for large containerships since the third quarter of 2015. MSC told The Loadstar today it would not comment on the newbuild rumours.

According to Alphaliner data, there are 59 ULCVs already in service between Asia and North Europe; by 2019, that number will have increased to 105 ships of 14,000-22,000 TEUs – excluding nine CMA CGM ships at letter of intent stage and the eleven MSC ships yet to be confirmed by the carrier.

During a Maersk Group second-quarter earnings call on 16 August, CEO Soren Skou, answering a question on what were the then rumours of the order by CMA CGM, suggested newbuilds were “unnecessary”. He said the batch of ULCVs currently being delivered had been ordered because of fuel economics, but that this incentive had “kind of disappeared, given current oil prices”

However, if confirmed, the new 22,000 TEU behemoths would be deployed onto the Asia-Europe tradelane where MSC partners with Maersk Line in the 2M alliance.

Meanwhile, Hapag-Lloyd said yesterday that not only was it refraining from ordering new tonnage, but that it was important to get the right mix of ships in its network. Speaking during his firm’s earnings call yesterday, Hapag-Lloyd CEO Rolf Habben Jansen was asked about the lower average size vessels deployed on THE Alliance network compared with the Ocean and 2M alliances, and said he was “convinced we have got a very adequate network”. He added: “While 20,000 TEU ships are of course efficient, they are not suitable for every route. Our priority in designing the network was transit times and providing as many direct calls as possible.”

Nevertheless, even if more ULCVs are on the way, Alphaliner said fears of a capacity glut on the Asia-North Europe trade had been “overplayed”. It said the cascading of smaller tonnage was “expected to mitigate part of the capacity growth” from the new ULCVs over the next two years. However, Alphaliner accepts that the cascading of smaller 8,000-13,000 TEU vessels onto other trades “could pose problems for carriers that struggle to find profitable employment for these ships”.

Carrier members of the Ocean Alliance will take delivery of some twenty-five 20,000-21,000 TEU ships next year which will see 13,000-14,000 TEU vessels cascaded onto Asia-Med and Asia-U.S., Middle-East, Latin America and Africa routes.

Reprinted courtesy of The Loadstar (