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Shipping Line Mega-Alliances Impact Ports and Terminals

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Author(s): Neil Davidson, Senior Analyst - ports & terminals, (Drewry Shipping Consultants Ltd), London, United Kingdom

Ports and terminals are facing unprecedented challenges as a result of two inter-related factors: the deployment of ever larger container ships as carriers seek economies of scale and the resultant formation of ever larger carrier alliances in order to fill these ships. Bigger ships create well documented pressures for ports in terms of the need for deeper water, larger cranes and longer berths. They also mean that box exchanges per vessel call are larger and there is more peaking pressure on terminals. Bigger alliances though compound this by making overall customer volumes more ‘lumpy’ – large alliances can bring ever more cargo to a port or terminal in one go – and take it away. At the same time, this lumpiness reduces the options that the alliances have in terms of available ports and terminals that can accommodate them. The other key issue in this context is that all ports and terminals globally face these challenges. It is not confined to ports on the Asia-Europe route where the biggest ships and alliances are evident. The cascading effect of vessels being displaced onto other routes means that all ports are seeing significant ship size increases. In line with this, the megaalliances are spreading into numerous trade lanes. The proposed P3 Alliance (Maersk, MSC and CMA-CGM) covers the Asia-Europe, transatlantic and transpacific routes. The G6 Alliance (APL, Hapag-Lloyd, Hyundai, MOL, NYK and OOCL) is seeking to extend its Asia-Europe cooperation to the transatlantic and transpacific routes. Meanwhile, the CKYH Alliance (Cosco, K Line, Yang Ming and Hanjin) is being joined by Evergreen, while at the same time Cosco and China Shipping have agreed to work more closely together signing a ‘strategic co-operation agreement ’. Further expansion of alliances, both in terms of membership and geographically, seems inevitable.

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