24 November 2014

[241114.EN.SEA] Bigger Containerships Put Greater Pressure On The Container Industry

CARGO owners, intermodal operators, terminal operators and ports are facing increased financial and logistics pressures while shipping lines reap the benefits of lower costs, creating dis-economies of scale.

London's Drewry Maritime Research analysts say at the container shipping industry is confronted with higher costs and more competition since the average size of newbuildings doubled from 4,000 TEU in 2009 to 8,000 TEU in 2014.

Speaking at the Intermodal Europe in Rotterdam, Drewry analyst Stijn Rubens said a further 82 per cent of the current order book comprises vessels that are larger than 8,000 TEU.

Mr Rubens, explained that one of the immediate impacts on terminal operators is that higher investment is required to remain "attractive."

Terminal operators want to improve their gantry crane outreach to handle the big ships with widths of 23 boxes and increase their berth depth to 17 metres.

"On many occasions this means dredging, which is not only very expensive, but also very unpopular in global politics. It's very difficult to realise or to materialise," Mr Rubens said.

Furthermore, the larger vessels are not calling at ports as often, with the average number of port calls per week in Northern Europe falling from 160 in 2009 to 100 this year, the UK's Container Management magazine reported.

"To make things work, we've seen the peaks and the troughs are getting worse and worse. Schedule reliability has been badly affected," he said.

According to Drewry, terminals are finding it difficult to deal with the larger vessels promptly, with only 51 per cent of vessels calling at ports on the Asia-Europe trade, arriving within 24 hours of their schedule time in the first quarter of 2014 leading to longer dwell times on the terminal.

The situation is difficult for intermodal operators too. "For the intermodal operators, the first impact is cost increase. It starts with a few waiting hours here and there, but then it increases.

"The second impact is the modal split because if all your ships are delayed by seven days, that doesn't necessarily mean your shipper will delay his expectations by seven days," said Mr Ruben.

The end result of this is higher costs and lower revenues, meaning intermodal operators "need very high levels of asset utilisation to break even," said the analyst.

Cargo owners are too facing challenges because of less regular services and increased costs.

The industry is also suffering from an additional problem of "dis-economies of scale" as the cost level for shipping companies due to large ships is significantly far from the optimal level for cargo owners, therefore, the industry as whole would have lower costs if vessels were smaller.

To deal with these problems, Mr Rubens suggested both vertical solutions including forecasting, planning and participation and also horizontal measures such as forming networks to allow for specialisation.

Source : HKSG.

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