Maersk is preparing for an early termination of its 2M partnership with MSC by reinforcing its fleet, most recently fixing two 13,100 teu charters.
The carrier has agreed with non-operating shipowner Danaos to take charge of 2012-built 13,082 teu sister ships Hyundai Ambition and Hyundai Speed for 34 months from next June, at a daily hire rate of $51,500.
The vessels were originally chartered to South Korean carrier Hyundai Merchant Marine (HMM) for 12 years, at $64,918 a day.
However, during HMM’s restructuring in 2016, the vessels were among several sub-let to Maersk and MSC when HMM joined the 2M in a space-sharing deal that was dubbed the 2M-H Strategic Alliance.
As part of the deal with the 2M, which was crucial to Korean state-owned companies continuing to pump money into the carrier, HMM was not allowed to operate its own vessels within the scope of the alliance.
Subsequently, the vessels were redelivered to HMM when the carrier eventually joined THE Alliance, in April 2020, as a full member.
Once, 13,000 teu containerships were ‘the workhorses’ of the Asia-North Europe trade, but subsequently became utility vessels as it become increasingly dominated by 18,000 teu+ ultra-large container vessels (ULCVs), and because they were able to transit the Panama Canal’s neo-panamax locks that opened in 2016.
Maersk’s current willingness to forward-charter – and for a significant time period – shows demand remains strong in the charter sector.
Indeed, in this week’s report on charter activity in the VLCS [very large container vessel] sector, of 7,500-13,000 teu ships, Alphaliner said it anticipated “continued strong rates for these sizes”.
The consultant said there was a “limited supply” of vessels becoming open in the VLCS sector, and that it had heard of several 9,000-9,500 teu ships having their charters extended from next year.
“It is remarkable that interest in large container vessels stays high, despite the uninterrupted delivery of newbuild tonnage impacting, directly or indirectly (through cascading), this class of ship,” it said.
“Everybody talks about the chronic oversupply problem in the container business, but there is no evidence of that at the moment in the charter market,” a shipbroker contact told The Loadstar.
“The orderbook is full up with 24,000 teu monsters that nobody wants and very few smaller vessels where there is a demand,” he added.
Meanwhile, Maersk Broker referred to the “remarkable stability” and “renewed demand” for the larger ships in the charter market. It said this positive sentiment was also to be seen in the smaller sizes.
“Despite the market soon entering the slack season, demand remains, and tonnage for the most part is finding employment, albeit with the occasional drawback, such as waiting time and ballasting, becoming the norm,” said the broker.
Elsewhere, London-based shipbroker Braemar was also upbeat about the containership charter market, noting that “chartering activity remains robust at a time when it is not uncommon for demand to slow”.
It also reported that the downward trend of charter rates seen in the second half of the year had slowed.