In response to the dynamic shifts in global trade patterns triggered by the COVID-19 pandemic, major carriers have adapted their strategies, leading to a substantial reconfiguration of shipping capacities. The focus has moved away from the traditionally dominant East-West trades to address the evolving demands of North-South routes, according to sources.
According to data from Alphaliner, there has been a notable 4.5% year-on-year reduction in capacity on the Transpacific route. Simultaneously, there has been a remarkable upswing in capacities for services connecting Latin America (+17.5%) and Africa (+21.1%). The changes reflect a strategic adjustment as carriers respond to fluctuating market conditions.
The Asia-North America route has witnessed a significant contraction, with almost 243,000 TEU slots removed since November 2022. This reduction has resulted in a decrease in the route’s share of global fleet deployment from 20.9% to 18.5%. Further reductions are anticipated as members of THE Alliance temporarily close the Asia–US East Coast ‘EC4’ loop, deploying twelve neo-panamax ships of 13,500–14,200 TEU.
Meanwhile, the overall container fleet capacity trading to, from, and within Latin America has surged by nearly 562,000 TEU over the past year. ZIM’s introduction of the ‘ZAT’ service between Asia and the West Coast of South America is expected to further boost capacity, with eleven panamax ships of around 4,250 TEU joining the trade.
Africa has emerged as another significant growth area, witnessing a substantial increase of 354,000 TEU in the fleet deployed for liner services compared to the previous year. Maersk and CMA CGM’s decision to shift 13 neo-panamax vessels of 13,100 to 13,900 TEU to a joint Far East–West Africa service underscores the region’s growing prominence.
Surprisingly, the highest year-on-year capacity growth has been observed in intra-European traffic, recording a 21.2% gain. This increase is attributed to carriers deploying larger ships in regional services. Additionally, containers carrying Asian cargo destined for the Russian port of St. Petersburg are increasingly transshipping in Egypt or Turkey on Asia–East Med loops, contributing to the growth.
Despite spot ocean freight rates facing pressure, there has been a 7.4% year-on-year capacity growth between Asia and Europe. This growth is attributed to the addition of more than 394,000 TEU slots to the Asia–Europe fleet since November 2022, largely due to the introduction of 24,000 TEU megamax newbuildings.
The Asia–Europe trade has reclaimed its position as the largest in terms of global fleet deployment, with a total capacity of 5.75 million TEU at the beginning of this month, representing 20.7% of the worldwide fleet. These strategic adjustments by carriers reflect a nuanced response to the evolving dynamics of global trade, positioning them to navigate the post-pandemic landscape effectively.