The maritime valuation and market intelligence service noted that the average speed of loaded containerships has increased by 5.5% since last June, to 14.76 knots, and by 8.5% on the larger sectors.
The report’s author, Olivia Watkins, said there is a direct correlation between the increase in speed and charter hire rates, which, in the case of 8,500 teu vessels, have risen by 350% over the same period, as fuel has come to represent a much smaller percentage of operating costs.
It follows that charterers are more concerned about paying an extra day’s hire at very high levels than conserving fuel, and are instructing captains to make the best possible speed rather than economic speed.
And, on liner routes, evidence is beginning to emerge that carriers are suppressing some of their slow steaming instructions, asking vessels to “speed up” to meet berthing windows, as well as increasing average speeds on return routes to prioritize empty rig deadhead.
“Masters had to jump through a lot of hoops before to get approval to increase the speed of their vessels, apart from for safety reasons, but now many of them have carte blanche to step on the gas to comply with berthing windows and tides,” the carrier said.
Maersk spokesmen said last week that it was “accelerating its network” to mitigate the impact of port congestion.
The company, which posted a record first-quarter profit of $2.7 billion, was, as expected, fairly relaxed in the face of rising chartering, port and fuel costs, considering the 35% increase in its average freight rates.
Container shipping first adopted slow steaming in 2007, in a context where fuel costs had soared to around $700 per tonne; they now stand at around $500.
It has been estimated that a ULCV can save more than $2 million in fuel costs on a single voyage from Asia to Europe thanks to slow steaming, in addition to lower emissions from burning less fuel.
Slower sailing times have also helped the industry absorb chronic overcapacity from the need to deploy additional vessels on loops.
Meanwhile, while the economic case for installing scrubbers on containerships remains strong, as low-sulfur fuel oil (LSFO) is about $100 per tonne more expensive than the HFO (heavy fuel oil) that scrubber-equipped vessels can consume, adoption of retrofits has slowed to a trickle.
Carriers are using as many vessels as they can to meet demand and take advantage of high freight rates, and cannot afford to take vessels out of service for several months to retrofit them with scrubbers. As a result, scrubbers are only installed on vessels under construction.