Super-Size Container Ships Challenge Balance

Ship owners and operators are betting their future profitability on super-sized container ships and must delay deliveries of additional vessels to avoid overcapacity and plunging rates, a European shipping bank warns in a research report.

Super-Size Container ShipSuper-post-Panamax container ships — vessels with capacities of at least 8,000 20-foot equivalent units – “are becoming the backbone of the operating fleet of the top tier global liners,” said the report by DVB Bank, based in Rotterdam and listed on the Frankfurt Stock Exchange.

The world’s top 15 global container fleet operators hold a 70 percent share of the 13.7 million-TEU capacity of the active liner fleet.

Carriers and vessel charterers are concentrating their investments on large ships that offer economies of scale and are using the big ships to displace other vessels, including post-Panamax ships in the 3,000-8,000-TEU range that are being bumped to other routes.

Balancing supply and demand of super-post-Panamax ships during the next two to three years will require moderate trade growth, capture of additional market share from smaller vessels, continued slow steaming to absorb capacity and “most importantly,” further delays in deliveries of new ships, the report said.

If owners and operators abandon the “pro-active supply management” that restricted capacity and enabled them to return to profitability last year, the wave of large ships scheduled for delivery in 2011 and 2012 will cause Far East-Europe rates to crash. “This will in turn weigh on the entire container shipping market,” the report said.

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