DEPRESSED Panamax charter rates are proving an incentive for shipping lines to deploy larger ships on intra-Asia services in a move that will help put to use surplus vessels of this size and spread the fuel bill over a larger number of containers.
One hurdle to more widespread use of panamax ships is their inability to call at Bangkok, Ho Chi Minh City and Haiphong, which between them handled nine million TEU in 2013. These ports with their eight and 10-metre draft restrictions limit ship size to 1,700 TEU.
Nonetheless, carriers are joining forces to consolidate their volumes on 4,000-5,000 TEU scale loops at the expense of loops run with ships of 1,700-2,800 TEU, reported Alphaliner.
Other problems are higher volumes handled on these larger ships result in longer port stays, which limit the number of calls that can be made with the same number of ships.
These disadvantages are worries in intra-Asia trades, which rely on quick vessel turnarounds and multiple loading opportunities across all legs of the services.
Some compromise can, however, be found in offering smaller scale loops (under 3,000 TEU) through slot arrangements.
There are currently 83 panamax ships of 3,000-5,000 TEU deployed on the intra-Asia routes, compared to only 35 units in 2008. However, most dedicated intra-Asia services still use smaller vessels of 1,000- 2,800 TEU, and wider adoption of larger ships on this trade is expected to remain gradual.
Two new North Asia-Southeast Asia services using panamax vessels are being launched this month by MCC Transport and NYK (on the IA-2/Perseus) and NYK, "K" Line and Hapag-Lloyd (on the Leo/JASECO 4/JSJ).
For the latter service, the carriers are planning to call at the SPCT terminal in Ho Chi Minh City using the newly dredged Soai Rap channel, the first time that one of the HCMC terminals will be handling panamax sized ships.
However, the partners will need to sacrifice some port calls, as the new IA-2 and Leo will call at only nine ports and eight ports, respectively, under their new configurations, compared to 13 ports on the services which they will replace.
Source : HKSG.