Ultra-Large Containerships Seen Dominating Asia-Europe Trade in 2020’s

oocl germany
The ultra-large container vessel OOCL Germany calls at Eurogate Container Terminal in Wilhelmshaven, Germany, in October 2017. Photo: EUROGATE

By Gavin van Marle (The Loadstar) – The Asia-North Europe trade will be almost entirely operated by ultra-large container vessels (ULCVs) during the course of the next three years.

But this will leave shippers with significantly fewer sailings each week.

According to new research from SeaIntel, there will be 90 vessels of 14,000 teu-plus delivered to carriers over the next three years, which means that by 2020, this size vessel will account for 88% of the ships operating between Asia and Europe.

And if all the newbuilds are delivered according to schedule, by then 125 vessels on the Asia-North Europe trade would be 18,000 teu and above.

SeaIntel added that if demand remained at current levels, the delivery schedule would mean that the trade’s entire needs could be covered by just 15 weekly services deploying 165 vessels across the three main deepsea alliances.

“Assuming a healthy 5% demand growth in the coming three years, and also assuming the same degree of vessel utilisation as seen in 2017, it will essentially force each of the alliances to eliminate one of their current services,” it said.

It means carriers have the potential to order another 14 18,000 teu vessels – pushing the forecasted level of 125 18,000 teu-plus vessels in 2020 to the 165 required to run 15 services, making the trade entirely mega-ULCV-operated.

In turn, that would likely mean the trade’s existing 14,000-17,000 teu vessels cascaded to the Asia-Mediterranean trade. But it is doubtful whether it could cope with that sort of influx, as that would mean that 84% of vessels on that trade would be 14,000 teu-plus size, “and the trade lane will be entirely unable to absorb more than a small portion of the spill-over from the North European trade”.

SeaIntel chief executive Alan Murphy added: “Of course, 18,000 teu-plus vessels can also be phased directly into the Mediterranean trade, there is nothing preventing this. From that perspective, the field is wide open for more orders of 18,000 teu-plus tonnage.

“However, this would further exacerbate the cascading issues.”

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