THE appearance of larger vessels in intra-Asia trade lanes has prompted expectations of significant growth in that market's cargo value and volume, reports London's Loadstar.
First it noted that Thai feeder operator Regional Container Lines (RCL) has deployed larger vessels on its Singapore-Manila (RMN) and Singapore-Ho Chi Minh (RHS) services, upsizing vessels from 1,600 TEU to 2,000 TEU and 1,080 TEU to 1,600 TEU.
And later this month, RCL will also launch a direct service between Thailand and Myanmar, said the report.
Despite slower growth in 2014, the intra-Asia market is still fastest-growing trade route worldwide, with recent estimates from Maersk Line's intra-Asia subsidiary, MCC Transport, placing volumes at 30 million TEU a year.
With feedering and cabotage, that figure could be as high as 35 million TEU, according to MCC, and represent 22 per cent of the entire global container trade.
What strikes RCL vice president Charlie Chu is that the growth of the middle class in Asia as a driver of demand.
"We see higher-value, finished cargo being shipped within Asia as the middle class continues to grow - thereby there is more use of 40ft high-cubed versus 20ft containers," he said.
"We are seeing greater competition in intra-Asia from the global carriers as it now has the biggest trade volumes in the world at a high level [of freight rates]," said Mr Chu.
Other new or upgraded services include those recently announced by "K" Line, APL, Evergreen, Pacific International Lines (PIL), Hanjin Shipping and OOCL.
"K" Line launched a service between China and south east Asia, while Singapore's APL will add a new call at Jubail, Saudi Arabia, to its West Asia Express (WAX) service.
Meanwhile Taiwan's Evergreen has upgraded its intra-Asia offering by launching a Taiwan, Shenzhen-Shekou to Malacca Strait service (TSS), as well as a dedicated Taiwan-Hong Kong loop (THK).
Singapore's PIL made its intentions clear by taking a major shareholding in Mariana Express Lines, which specialises in shipments to Hawaii and the Pacific islands, said Loadstar.
Come April 27, PIL will join "K" Line and Hanjin to launch the weekly China Straits Express. The service will link ports in China, Thailand and Vietnam with four 2,500 TEU vessels.
Last month, Hong Kong's OOCL introduced the Central PRC/South East Asia Service (CSS), loop to enhance its portfolio in the intra-Asia market. The CSS will provide direct connections between central Chinese ports, Ho Chi Minh City, Singapore, Jakarta and Laem Chabang.
Another development is escalating ship sizes that has resulted in cascading postpanamaxes into intra-Asia networks.
"Mega alliances and vessels will create opportunities for us to combine shipper-owned container (SOC) and carrier-owned container (COC) loadings on the same service, allowing us to string up longer and more frequent port-to-port services that meet the combined needs of SOC and COC customers," said Mr Chu.
On the impact of vessel upsizing and mega alliances on Asia's port productivity, Mr Chu pointed out some potential limitations.
"Draft, terminal productivity and congestion issues may limit upsizing and enjoy lowest unit cost per TEU on a number of intra-Asia corridors.
"Terminals are becoming increasingly congested in Asia, with securing a preferred berth an issue at times. In some countries, there is also limited investment in some facilities, with politics and finances being issues," he said.
Source : HKSG, 21.04.15 / Illustration : Bignews.big.