Ocean carriers are slowing-down their ships and deploying extra tonnage on more robust routes as they endeavour to soak up surplus capacity.
And the transatlantic tradelane, which has so far avoided the worst of the freight rate collapse contagion affecting export services from Asia, is seen as a good option.
Maersk advised today it would be adding three extra ships during the first quarter on the North Europe and Mediterranean to US east coast and Gulf coast loops it operates together with its vessel-sharing partner MSC within their 2M alliance agreement.
It said during Q1 it would add one ship to the 2M North Europe to US east coast and Gulf coast TA1/NEUATL1 and TA3/NEUATL3 loops, and one to the Mediterranean to US east and Gulf coast TA6/MSC Pearl string.
Mearsk said: “Slowing global demand has left us with extra capacity that we can use to improve the reliability of our services.
“With these changes we can reduce schedule gaps and slidings, boost weekly coverage and allow for more robust supply chain planning,” it added.
And the company was keen to emphasise the reduction in greenhouse gas emissions from the slower service speeds of the ships. It said this would “help us meet our goal of achieving net zero greenhouse gas emissions across our business by 2040”.
Nonetheless, extra capacity on the route will add to the downward pressure on freight rates on the transatlantic, which has begun to see weekly declines of up to 10% across the spot market indices, to levels of around $6,500 per 40ft.
In June last year, spot rates on the route were close to $10,000 per 40ft, with rates boosted by a combination of a capacity crunch, equipment shortages and port congestion in both North Europe and the US.
Meanwhile, Alphaliner reported that Ellerman City Liners was to increase its sailing frequency on its North Europe to US east coast USX express service by redeploying the remaining three ships it had been operating on its Asia to UK GB Express service, thus closing that service.
The shipping subsidiary of UK-based forwarder Uniserve launched the USX transatlantic service in December, offering a sailing every two weeks with the 5,060 teu SC Mara and 3,534 teu Mona Lisa.
The consultant said the 2,797 teu Windswept had joined the service and would be followed next month by the 2,450 teu and 2,750 teu ships after they completed their final GB Express voyages from Asia.
This would enable Ellermans to compete with its peers by offering North European shippers a weekly sailing to the US.
And an enhanced rotation of the USX will see a Hamburg call added to the itinerary, with the revised North European schedule as Antwerp, Rotterdam, Hamburg and Tilbury. In the US, it calls at: New York, Jacksonville and Wilmington.
Ellermans launched its China to UK service to mitigate the impact of sky-high freight rates and supply chain uncertainty for Uniserve clients, but a collapse in demand and, consequently, a dramatic decline in freight rates since September has made the operation of small tonnage on the route uneconomic.
According to Alphaliner data, Ellermans has the 2,797 teu Windswept on charter until November 2025, at a fixed rate of $47,000 a day. Similar-sized ships are now only able to command daily hire rates of around $20,000, with much shorter time charter periods.
Source: The Loadstar