Ocean carriers are opting for more standalone services or slot-swop agreements, with capacity operated under vessel-sharing alliance agreements falling to a three-year low.
The independent charge is led by MSC, with its aggressive market share growth strategy and launch of a raft of new services.
According to a survey by Alphaliner, as of 1 January, 38.9% of global containership capacity was operated in conjunction with alliance partners – down from 40.9% in 2022 and 41.1% in 2021.
The termination of the 2M Alliance – officially at the end of 2024 – will see the percentage of capacity allocated to VSAs drop significantly as MSC and Maersk operate mostly outside vessel-pooling agreements. MSC is already the carrier with the least tonnage tied up in VSAs.
The top-ranked carrier has just 25% of its 4.9m teu capacity operating within alliance services, according to Alphaliner data, compared with Maersk’s 39% and CMA CGM’s 47%. At the other end of the scale, Taiwanese carrier Yang Ming allocates 80% of its 705,000 teu fleet capacity to alliance services.
The decrease in global containership capacity operated under alliance services has fallen, “partly because MSC is increasingly going it alone,” said Alphaliner. “MSC’s increasingly independent approach was underlined in February by the introduction of its standalone Asia-Mediterranean Dragon service, deploying 9,000 teu to 14,400 teu units.
“This former joint 2M service was suspended during the pandemic and permanently closed earlier this year,” said the consultant.
Indeed, in recent weeks MSC has announced a number of new services and service enhancements across its network. They include its new intra-Asia Shikra service, between China’s main ports and India, launching this month with the sailing of the newbuild 15,900 teu MSC Mara.
Moreover, on the transpacific, outside its 2M VSA, MSC is still the largest independent operator.
“MSC offers the largest proportion of independent tonnage of the alliance carriers, with 26 units of 260,000 teu operated on a standalone basis, well ahead of the next carrier, CMA CGM, with 12 ships of 69,000 teu,” said Alphaliner.
Elsewhere, South Korean carrier HMM, which has 78% of its 807,000 teu capacity committed to a VSA with THE Alliance, has recently taken over an Asia-US west coast loop dropped by THEA as part of its annual network revision.
THEA’s PS8 loop will end on 15 May and will be rebranded the Pacific South Express (PSX) by HMM, It will operate on a standalone basis between China, South Korea and the US west coast, deploying six 8,500 teu to 11,000 teu vessels with Japanese carrier ONE purchasing slots.
Nevertheless, for all but the largest carriers, the concept of VSAs is essential for their survival as global players, and even MSC has not ruled out some form of cooperation on certain routes, post-2M.
CEO Soren Toft told CNBC’s Lori Ann LaRocco: “We may choose in some routes to go on our own and, maybe in others, we will still do certain alliance-type structures.”