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Jump in box ship sizes serving US and Europe

The average size of container ships deployed on the Asia-Europe and trans-Pacific trades is continuing to rise as carriers take delivery of ultra-large vessels.

According to the latest analysis by Alphaliner, container lines are removing smaller vessels on the world’s two highest volume box shipping routes and replacing them with larger vessels best able to generate economies of scale, a strategy that is helping offset bearish freight rates.

“This year saw the departure of the last 4,200- to 5,500-TEU ships from the Asia-Europe routes, following ZIM’s decision to withdraw the Asia-Mediterranean ZMP service in March and HMM suspending its Asia-North Europe AEX service in August,” said Alphaliner in its latest weekly report.

“Widely used on the Asia-Europe trades 15 years ago, tonnage of this size class was now been completely displaced by ships that are — most recently — up to four times larger than their predecessors in the mid-2000s.”

In July, MSC deployed the first 23,700-TEU “megamax-24” vessel on the Asia–Europe trade and an additional five units have been delivered in the last three months.

“Twenty-four such ships from various carriers will join the world fleet before the end of 2020,” reported Alphaliner. “All these ships are earmarked for the Asia-North Europe trade, where average vessel size is expected to reach 17,000 TEU by September next year.”

MSC deployed the first 19,000-TEU megamax units on the Asia-Mediterranean route in March, pushing the average vessel size on that trade lane to 12,600 TEUs.

“The Asia-North America routes also saw average vessel sizes increase, but this year the pace has been slower, compared to the Asia-Europe trades, as carriers took a more cautious approach in the face of slower demand growth in the U.S.,” said Alphaliner.

The analyst also reported that the number of inactive container ships is on the rise as lines push ahead with scrubber retrofit programs to avoid exposure to higher fuels costs when IMO 2020 low-sulfur fuels become mandatory on vessels not fitted with abatement technology at the start of next year.

“The inactive containership fleet has risen sharply over the last two weeks to reach 180 units for 753,819 TEU as of 30 September, or 3.3% of the total fleet,” said Alphaliner.

A further increase in the inactive fleet this month is forecast due to the impact of void sailings and the  continuing stream of ships entering docks for scrubber retrofits. “Carriers have announced further void sailings in November in response to weak cargo demand, which could see the inactive fleet remaining above 800,000 TEU for most of the fourth quarter,” said the analyst.

FreightWaves articles byMike