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With the new and rejigged east-west alliances now bedded in, liner consultancy SeaIntel has taken a fresh look at how the shake-up has impacted weekly capacity and port coverage on the Asia-Europe trades – given that services have declined as a consequence of the vessel sharing agreements.

According to SeaIntel data, the number of strings on the Asia-North Europe route has fallen from 26 to 21, while the number of services between Asia and the Mediterranean has been reduced from 17 to 15.

However, there has been no corresponding reduction in capacity, due to the “hidden” cellular injection of new ultra-large container vessels (ULCVs). The average size of ships deployed between Asia and North Europe has increased from 10,000 teu to 13,200 teu in the past three years, with vessels serving the Mediterranean now averaging 9,000 teu compared with 7,700 teu three years ago.

Moreover, that slot average is ticking up weekly with the advent of the ‘new normal’ 16,000 teu-plus ships being phased onto Asia-North Europe in the rush to reduce unit costs.

According to SeaIntel, despite fewer services, weekly capacity offered from Asia since 2012 has actually increased by 8.4% to North Europe and by 2.7% to the Mediterranean.

In terms of Asia-Europe weekly port calls, SeaIntel said there were now 75, against 78 in 2012.

There are notable reductions in call frequencies at Hong Kong, which has seen a decrease of six weekly calls, and in North Europe, where the biggest hub port of Rotterdam has seen its weekly calls reduce from 21 to 19 under the new alliances.

Specifically, SeaIntel’s analysis also looked at the number of port calls per service of the alliances, and in the case of the Maersk-MSC 2M alliance, compares the new co-operation with the carriers’ previous standalone offering.

In 2014 Maersk Line averaged 15.1 ports per service, compared with MSC’s 15.3, but under the 2M VSA, the two carriers average 14.8 calls.

However, the benefit to Maersk and MSC from the creation of the 2M is that, overall, more ports have been added to their networks – the former calling at seven ‘new’ ports and the latter significantly boosting its network by the inclusion of 22 extra ports.

SeaIntel calculated that the net increase for Maersk Line has been two additional ports in its Asia–Europe network, while MSC has enhanced its offering by a massive net 17 additional ports and thus has clearly benefited more from the co-operation in terms of its port coverage.

In conclusion, SeaIntel said the rationalisation of Asia-Europe port calls was a “logical consequence of increasingly larger vessels being deployed on fewer services” as carriers increased their use of hub-and-spoke networks.

It added that although the alliance strategy of carriers had led to a reduction in the total number of ports called, individual carriers would “almost certainly increase” their network via the combination of alliance coverage.

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