Containership Company launches in April
A startup container shipping line based out of Norway said Friday it will launch a direct service from the Chinese port of Taicang to Southern California in April.
The service will be operated with five vessels, ranging in size from 2,600 TEUs to 2,900 TEUs, said Franck Kayser, chief operating office of the new line, The Containership Company. Transit time will be 16 days from Taicang to Southern California.
Kayser said in an interview with American Shipper that the idea to base the service out of Taicang was to reduce costs for shippers in China's Jiangsu province. Taicang sits on the Yangtze River about 30 miles upriver from Shanghai. Kayser said calling directly at Taicang would reduce $150 to $200 in trucking costs shippers generally have to pay to move containers to Shanghai.
'It's the first direct service from Taicang, so it gives us first mover's advantage,' he said.
To emphasize the potential uniqueness of the service, American Shipper affiliate ComPair Data has no listing for Taicang for any direct services to North America. However, Taicang is a growing port with more than 1 million TEUs of volume and a diverse base of shippers, including BP, DuPont, Unilever and Nike ( American Shipper reported on the rise of Yangtze River container terminals in August 2008, page 8).
Reports of the emergence of The Containership Company surfaced in 2009 amidst the worst crisis in the history of container shipping. The idea for the company was reportedly born out of the idea of taking chartered tonnage at attractive rates in a depressed market, then passing the savings on to shippers.
Kayser said the five vessels for the service have been chartered for three to four years.
'Of course, when you take them on a longer-term basis, you pay a little bit over the market rate, but we have got a reasonable rate,' he said.
Kayser said it has yet to be decided whether the service will call in Los Angeles or Long Beach, and that the line is in negotiations on where to call. He also said The Containership Company will launch a service between China and northern Europe at some point in 2010.
The company is backed by a group of 30 investors, none of which own a 'significant part,' Kayser said. The company will be based in Norway, with startup capital of $25 million.
That it's based in Norway could fuel earlier reports that Norwegian shipping magnate John Fredriksen is involved in the venture. Fredriksen, who has primarily been involved in the oil, gas and dry bulk shipping sectors, is a shareholder in the European tourism giant TUI, which until 2008 wholly owned container line Hapag-Lloyd.
Kayser is a former executive with Maersk Line and CMA CGM.
The timing of the launch of the service is interesting, given that it comes weeks before new annual transpacific contracts are due to be signed. Carriers on the transpacific have spent the last six months shrinking capacity in the trade and raising rates after rates sunk to unsustainable levels in early 2009.
The entry of a low-cost operator (an early report of The Containership Company's model likened it to a low-cost airline) has the potential to upset the progress established carriers have made in driving up rates, though the service will add a relatively small amount of capacity (less than 2 percent of current total weekly capacity from Asia to the U.S. West Coast) on the lane. ' Eric Johnson