2019 in review: Shipping

Logistics and transportation of International Container Cargo ship in the ocean at twilight sky, Freight Transportation, Shipping

The past 12 months have seen significant change in the maritime industry. Shipping has seen major progress in a number of areas including the expansion of the global mega-ship fleet, examination of the Northern Sea Route (NSR) and US-China trade all continuing to affect the fortunes of ports, carriers and stakeholders.

Port Technology International (PTI) has been on hand to report on all the biggest developments on sea, land and throughout the global supply chain.

Among the major developments which followed on from 2018 was the growth of so-called ‘mega-ships’, vessels which can carry carry more than 20,000 TEU.

The biggest of these came in July 2019 when the Mediterranean Shipping Company (MSC) launched the MSC Gulsun, the largest container ship in the world with a capacity in excess of 23,000 TEU.

PTI covered its maiden voyage as it broke the the vessel utilization record in the Port of Tanjung Pelepas, Malaysia, sailed down the Suez Canal for the first time and finally docked at the Port of Rotterdam.

The growth of vessels has been driven by world trade, which in itself poses new challenges. If vessels are expanding then carriers they must find new routes if they are to keep up with rapid growth of global trade.

Another major talking point in 2019 has been the growing importance of the Northern Sea Route (NSR), the Arctic passageway which could potentially greatly reduce the transit time between Asia, Europe and North America.

Icebreaker towing cargo ship through thick ice-field. Panoramic image made from 8 photos.

In June 2019 the Russian government announced plans for a deep-water port in its Baltic enclave of Kaliningrad at a cost of $US3.1 billion as the country looks to strengthen its logistics and maritime capability.

Later that month, DP World signed an agreement with the Russian Direct Investment Fund and other governmental bodies to develop the NSR, including the building of new ice-class ships, ice-breakers and other related infrastructure.

Along with the commercial potential of the NSR came concern about the environmental impact of using it as a shipping route.

Despite its potential for global trade, some of the world’s biggest carriers announced in 2019 that they will not use the NSR as a shipping route, including CMA CGM and Hapag-Lloyd.

Overshadowing almost everything in 2019 has been the International Maritime Organisation’s (IMO) upcoming regulations on sulfur emissions, which will prohibit vessels from emitting more than 0.5% throughout a voyage.

The regulations, which were decided in 2013, are supported by all the major carriers. Soren Toft, then Chief Operations Officer at A.P. Moeller-Maersk, the world’s largest carrier by market share, spoke in September 2019 about the necessity of the regulations at the UN Climate Action Summit in New York.

During his speech, Toft spoke of Maersk’s “bold” target of becoming entirely carbon neutral by 2050, a goal which involves having totally eco-friendly vessels commercial viable by 2030.

In March 2019 it launched the largest ever eco-friendly shipping project as part of a collaboration with Heineken, Phillips. Shell, Unilever, DSM and FrieslandCampina as part of a wider effort to decarbonise the maritime industry.

The core of this was a trial voyage from Rotterdam to Shanghai fueled entirely by a biofuel which it had developed with its partners.

Maersk has not been alone in their green ambitions and in fact the upcoming regulations have pushed all the world’s major carriers to pursue ways of complying.

CMA CGM announced in September 2019 that it was going to launch the world’s first mega-ship powered by liquefied natural gas (LNG). It described the CMA GCM Jacques Saade, named after its late founder, as the “largest environmentally friendly vessel in the world”.

This was the first major milestone in a project launched in November 2017 which sought to make CMA CGM the first liner to fit an entire new 20-strong vessel fleet with LNG.

Furthermore, it launched its own biofuel initiative with IKEA and the Port of Rotterdam in March 2019.

There was also a major change in the executive side of shipping, with the aforementioned Soren Toft leaving his post as COO of Maersk to take on the role of CEO at MSC.

This jump symbolized what some consider to be a power shift in the maritime industry, with MSC potentially set to overtake Maersk as the largest container shipping line in the world by the end of 2020 once its current orders have been fulfilled.

That will undoubtedly be one of the major talking points of 2020, as will sustainability, the trade war and the development of new transportation technologies.

Throughout 2020, PTI will continue to be the premier source of coverage and analysis for the maritime industry.

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