Alphaliner: Slow steaming, Cape diversions and deferred new ship deliveries hide ship inactivity

Container ships and bulk carriers are seen in front of a fuel storage facility in the waters off the coast of Singapore June 25, 2009. REUTERS/Vivek Prakash (SINGAPORE BUSINESS)

According to a special report from Alphaliner, despite rapidly declining liner market confidence, with plummeting cargo volumes and poor vessel utilization on some major east-west routes, containership inactivity has remained surprisingly low.

The latest Alphaliner report showed that only about 2% of the world’s containership fleet, measured in capacity rather than units, can be counted as “commercially idle.”

Towards the end of the year, ocean carriers have gotten somewhat creative in keeping the idle fleet small. In this regard, three effects combine to keep fleet activity high, albeit somewhat artificially:

First, carriers have increasingly implemented slow steaming. Despite notable improvements in port congestion, many shipping lines have simply kept “reserve ships” on their pro forma schedules, which were originally added to service lineups to account for massive port delays. Since the additional waiting and loading time is no longer necessary at most terminals, the additional “buffer time” is simply eliminated at sea through slower navigation speeds.

Second (see bulletin 2022-50), a number of carriers have started to divert return trips from Europe to the Far East from the Suez Canal to the longer route via the Cape of Good Hope. Depending on the speed of the ships, the diversion will absorb two additional ships for each weekly loop. Otherwise, many of the ships kept busy with the Cape diversion would have to spend time at anchor in Asia as their next round trips went blank due to low demand.

Lastly, Alphaliner believes that deliveries of numerous large container ships will be strategically postponed from late 2022 to early 2023. Based on our observations of construction progress, Alphaliner believes that there are a number of ultra-large container ships, i.e. NPX and MGX. – new containership builds that the yards technically could have delivered in November and December. However, many of these ships have recently “disappeared” from the schedules.

Carriers and shipyards have apparently negotiated subsequent deliveries that will convert many large ships from a 2022-built ship to a 2023-built ship.
MSC in particular, which already has numerous large containerships idle in Chinese waters, is expected to push deliveries of additional megamax vessels through 2023. About 20 containerships are officially targeted for delivery in December, but many are expected to be scaled back to 2023. An example is the 24,116 teu MSC TESSA, which was initially expected to enter service in November. Now his incorporation has been postponed until February.

Source: Alphaliner

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