MORE containerships of more than 5,000 TEU are expected to be deployed on the Far East-West Africa route in the next few months, once MSC makes Lome its hub for 6,000-TEU plus ships.
By Alphaliner's reckoning, new port developments in the region could see the introduction of ships of up to 9,000 TEU to West Africa by 2017.
Gearless ships of above 5,000 TEU now account for one-fifth of the total capacity deployed on the Far East-West Africa route since their first introduction to the trade in September 2013.
The size of the largest containerships plying the FE-West Africa trade has increased by 87 per cent since 2009, while the total capacity deployed on the trade has risen by 250 per cent, according to Alphaliner.
The FE-West Africa trade is the fastest growing intercontinental trade, contrasting with much lower volume growth in most other trades.
Prior to 2010, geared ships of 1,500-3,000 TEU were the mainstay of the West African trade, while the largest ships deployed to the region reached only 3,500 TEU.
In 2011, Maersk introduced the first of its purpose-built WAFMAX ships of 4,496 TEU on the West Africa trades. A total of 22 of these units, fitted with four cranes, were delivered between March 2011 and February 2013. They remain the largest geared containerships ever built.
Today, shipboard cranes are becoming increasingly superfluous, as new infrastructure developments have made most major West African ports accessible to larger gearless ships.
While the region's ports hitherto suffered from a lack of investment and were plagued by chronic congestion problems, this has changed dramatically in the last two years. Today, at least 10 West African ports are capable of handling gearless ships of above 4,000 TEU.
The strong demand for larger ships in West Africa has provided a lifeline for panamax ships, with 26 gearless panamax units of 4,000-4,600 TEU currently deployed on the FE-West Africa route, compared to only four units 12 months ago.
In addition, 25 gearless overpanamax ships of 4,600-6,600 TEU have been introduced over the last 12 months.
New infrastructure developments will open up opportunities for more superpanamax ships to be deployed on this sector, with Pointe Noire, Luanda and Lome now able to accept ships of above 6,000 TEU.
The newly opened Lome Container Terminal (LCT) will be able to accommodate ships of up to 14,000 TEUers with drafts of 15.5 metres.
Additional investments in existing ports in Abidjan, Tema and Pointe Noire will further boost handling capabilities in West Africa.
Furthermore, major investments planned at the green field ports of Lekki and Badagry in Nigeria will create new regional transshipment capabilities for the region.
Source : HKSG.