Maersk Line, the Danish shipping conglomerate, is concluding arrangement to grow the capacity of its Asia-to-Europe (AE) service fleet this year with the introduction of 18,000 20-foot container vessels known as Triple-E ships.
“With a capacity of 18,000 20-foot containers, the Triple-E will be the largest container ship ever built,” says the management.
Triple-E is built for the Asia-to-Europe (AE) service, which is Maersk Line’s most important trade lane. In 2012, volumes of trade on that trade lane dropped by 5 percent and it is estimated by industry analyst Alphaliner that it will grow by only 1 percent in 2013.
This is happening at a time when WAFMAX, the 22 vessels worth $2 billion specially designed for West African ports and capable of carrying over 4,500 containers direct from Asia to Apapa port, is the largest container vessel that can call West African ports, the reason being that the West African water channel can only accommodate vessels with draught capacity of 11.5 to 13 metres.
“Maersk acknowledges that the introduction of the new vessels comes at a challenging time, with weak demand putting strains on all carriers. But that does not make the vessels a bad investment at all,” says Maersk CEO Søren Skou.
“First of all, most of the ships will not be delivered until 2014, so with five Triple-Es joining the fleet this year the capacity injection in 2013 is quite minimal. As we introduce new and larger ships, if the market is not growing we will pull out other capacity to make the balance for us.”
However, Maersk Line said it’s monitoring demand closely and is also ready to adjust capacity accordingly to avoid a repetition of the devastating rate wars of some of the previous years through returning chartered vessels to leasing partners, scrapping or recycling excess tonnage, idling parts of the fleet and further implementing slow steaming.
The plan, the company said, is to phase in the Triple-E vessels on the AE10 service, which currently calls at 13 different ports between Asia and Northern Europe. “They will replace the 13,100 TEU charter tonnage vessels, which will be cascaded to other services,” says Morten Engelstoft, Maersk’s chief operating officer. “We estimate that we will only increase capacity by about 1.5 percent in 2013, in line with our ambition of growing with the market.”