MSC/Maersk difference reduced to only 160.000 TEU container capacity

Swiss Italian shipping line Mediterranean Shipping Company (MSC) is closing the capacity gap on its 2M partner, Maersk by continuing to expand its fleet with a series of opportunist box ship purchases.

With the containership charter market virtually sold out across all sizes, Alphaliner said MSC has “embarked on a massive buying spree of second-hand tonnage worth around US$180 million, anticipating asset price rises, on the back of a fast-improving charter market”.

The consultant described the daily hire rates on the very few charter ships that become open as “going through the roof”, and it seems that MSC’s ambitious plans for growth have turned to buying second-hand tonnage.

MSC very active on the S&P charter market

Transactions by MSC, both on the charter and S&P (sales & purchase) markets, are kept closely under wraps, but Alphaliner said it understood that the carrier was buying four 8,200 to 8,500-TEU Zeaborn Ship Management-controlled ships for a total price of $114 million.

And, according to data, MSC purchased a quartet of 2006-built 8,533 TEU sister vessels, the ER Tianping, ER Tianshan, ER Tokyo and ER Texas, on October 30 for $28 million each.

Interestingly, MSC had the ER Texas under time-charter until June 2021 at $12,400 per day, but was paying double that, $25,000 per day, for the ER Tokyo.

The Tianshan appears to be still under charter to Maersk at an undisclosed daily hire rate, but the fourth sister ship, Tianping, is under charter to Zim until March next year at a daily rate of $24,500.

MSC closing the gap with Maersk as number one  shipping line

Notwithstanding that MSC is taking on the role of the shipowner for the vessels that have attached charters to Maersk and Zim, its strategy is to insulate itself against skyrocketing charter rates and to support its aggressive growth policy with additional tonnage.

Indeed, a ship broker described MSC’s interest: “They are interested in virtually anything that floats.”

With its recent purchases, MSC has further narrowed the capacity gap with Maersk, which now stands – with its order book – at some 160,000 TEU, a margin that could easily be overcome with an order of new ULCVs.

Meanwhile, Alphaliner’s latest idle tonnage survey shows the inactive containership tonnage fleet has virtually halved in the past two months.

Inactive fleet nearly reduced with 50% between August and October

As of October 26, Alphaliner recorded 107 ships for 378,802 TEU as inactive, compared with 198 vessels for 799,643 TEU on August 31.

“The container charter market continues its bullish journey, with charter rates rising quickly for all ship types, on the back of an increasingly tight supply,” said Alphaliner.

The consultant reported a “dearth of available tonnage” in the larger containership sizes, with most sectors setting new records for daily hire rates. Of particular note was that 4,000-5,300 TEU classic panamaxes, which Alphaliner said had suffered “years of misery”, were now achieving rates that would have been “unthinkable only a few months ago”.

Illustrating this, the consultant reported a five-month charter for a 5,000 TEU ship recently concluded by Hapag-Lloyd at $25,000 per day, which is five times the level that could have been achieved just over two years ago reports London’s Loadstar.

Copyright 2016 HKSG Group Media Ltd.