NYK waits on vessel innovation
NYK Group President Yasumi Kudo made a pledge in early 2010 to reduce his company's asset load, specifically saying the company would thin its owned containership fleet and rely more on chartered vessels.
Since then, the company has followed the plan to a 'T.' In 2010, it was one of only two liner carriers in the global top 20 (compatriot carrier 'K' Line was the other) to actually reduce its fleet size, counting owned and chartered capacity.
Kudo said the move to shed owned tonnage was necessary to combat short-term dynamics in the liner industry. But since last summer, a handful of lines have jumped back onto the ship ordering conveyor belt, none more dramatically than Maersk Line with its recent order for 18,000-TEU ships.
The current passage of reordering shines an even brighter light on NYK's against-the-grain strategy. The line operates 101 ships, representing 398,445 TEUs of capacity, big enough to make it the 12th-biggest container line in the world, according to maritime consultancy Alphaliner.
NYK said its paucity of orders also has to do with the line's desire to wait for shipbuilding innovations to provide greater degrees of efficiency than currently exist.
'We continue to keep a close eye on the latest trends with shipping technology because we are certain that fuel efficiency and environmental technology will be the foundations of our future competitiveness,' an NYK spokesperson told American Shipper. 'For example, a 10 to 20 percent fuel-efficiency difference is commonly found to exist between vessels of the same model when the timing of delivery differs. Furthermore, we have come across cases in which one new technology has contributed to a 5 to 10 percent savings in bunker. Therefore, we have a strong interest in technological development.'
The line wouldn't elaborate on the specific vessel innovations in its pipeline, saying it 'cannot disclose details of our studies.' But NYK is collaborating with Maersk on environmental measures, including on vessel design, an agreement tied up in June 2010.
In the meantime, the focus is on NYK's chartering activity. Alphaliner pegs NYK's chartered capacity at 24.6 percent of its total fleet capacity. Only OOCL, among the top 20 lines, has a lower percentage of chartered capacity.
'The percentage of short-term chartered vessels in our operating fleet is expected to increase from 10 percent in 2010 to 15 percent in 2011,' NYK said. 'We recognize that the percentage of long-term chartered vessels in our operating fleet is higher than the industry average, so we aspire for a more balanced portfolio. However, we do not necessarily think that increasing the percentage of short-term chartered vessels will put us at a disadvantage. By 2016, NYK’s percentage of short-term chartered vessels should increase to 30 to 40 percent.'
That increase is inevitably geared toward the next phase of ship ordering, by which time the innovations NYK seeks might have come to fruition. NYK does have a few vessels scheduled for delivery this year — it has four ships with 19,600 TEUs of capacity on order in total. That represents 4.9 percent of the line's current fleet, far and away the smallest order book among the top 20 lines both in capacity and as a percentage of its total fleet. ' Eric Johnson