Ocean carriers are increasingly confident that freight rates will remain high for years to come and continue to charter vessels for long periods at high daily charter rates last seen 16 years ago.
According to sources close to the shipping line Maersk, it has just chartered a trio of 4,600 TEU classic panamax vessels for periods of 24 to 27 months at a staggeringly high rate of $35,000 per day. The consultant noted that the last time a panamax containership reached this rate level was in 2005.
Indeed, the Northern Priority, Northern Promotion and Northern Precision, built in 2009-2010 and managed by Hamburg-based V Ships, would have struggled to reach $5,000 per day just five years ago, when the days of the, hitherto, workhorses of the liner industry seemed numbered, due to the economies of scale offered by larger vessels.
The Danish carrier already chartered the 4,586 TEU Northern Priority, having extended the charter until the end of this month at a rate of $10,450 per day, but has now been forced to pay more than three times this rate to keep the vessel in its fleet.
Alphaliner says Maersk has joined its 2M partner and rival MSC in a “fixing spree,” noting that Maersk has just agreed to charter two more panamaxes – the 4,253-teu Xiamen and the 4,252-teu Nagoya Tower – to UK-based Zodiac Maritime for 30-month periods at $32,000 per day.
The Xiamen was previously getting just $9,100 a day on charter to another carrier, while Maersk previously had the Nagoya Tower on charter last July for two months at $8,950 a day.
“We have freight brokers offering more than any other bid to take on a vessel and they are prepared to lock in three years or more at these rates,” he added.
“Shipowners prefer to take on the blue-chip vessels such as Maersk, MSC and CMA CGM, etc., and give them priority over the smaller ones, but they are not prepared to give them preferential treatment in terms of rates and terms,” he said.
“NOOs retain the edge in a chartering market facing a shortage of supply and continued strong demand that shows no signs of weakening in the near term,” the consultancy said.
Meanwhile, MSC is fighting the carrier arms race on three fronts: it has an order book of 451,000 TEU, 10 times that of Maersk and the second largest behind Evergreen’s massive 719,000 TEU of new orders, it remains the most aggressive carrier in the chartering and secondhand markets, having exhausted availability in the larger sizes it is turning its attention to the S&P market in the feeder sector.
London brokerage Braemar ACM said MSC had acquired the 2008-built 925 teu feedermax sister ships Perseus and Pictor and was engaged in “a number of other discussions in their final stages.”
“We expect to report on other MSC purchases shortly,” he said.