MPV Urania Credit HMM

Asian exporters “abandoned” by Maersk are scrambling for deals with rival carriers, inspiring a fresh wave of ad hoc charters to North European ports for next month.

The “strategic transformation” of its ocean business, announced by Maersk earlier this year, has resulted in many smaller forwarders and NVOCCs finding that  after 1 January, the carrier will no longer accept their bookings – other than through the Maersk Spot platform.

But, with short-term freight rates holding at highly elevated levels and demand robust ahead of the Chinese New Year (CNY) in the first week of February, operators are leaving no stone unturned to find extra loaders.

However, there are just no open containerships available, any ship that comes on the radar of brokers is promptly snapped up on the S&P market by major carriers for record amounts – regardless of the length of any unexpired charter – in order to insulate them from the sky-rocketing daily hire rates.

It follows that operators of ad hoc sailings, particularly from Asia to North Europe, that can hold onto tonnage, are being encouraged by buoyant demand and booking restrictions to make further round-trip voyages.

The Asia-Europe market, disrupted by the de facto withdrawal of a major player in the smaller shipper sector, has evolved into ‘regular’ ad hoc sailings from Asia with operators confident enough to advertise their open ships well in advance.

Indeed, one Chinese forwarder contact told The Loadstar he now considered the ad hoc sailings “a very useful option” to keep his orders moving.

“The alliance carriers are all rolling cargo and we never quite know where we stand with the bookings,” he said. “But on an ad hoc ship it is very simple, they take our bookings and they ship our containers,” he said.

One such operator is UAE-headquartered NVOCC CargoGulf, which offers customers sailings across a number of routes, as well as benefiting from having its own fleet of containers. CargoGulf told The Loadstar yesterday it had a loader from Yantian to North Europe this weekend, which was full and would be running a further sailing prior to CNY.

Moreover, the high rates, strong demand and dearth of open cellular tonnage has turned the heads of the owners of multipurpose vessels (MPVs) who, according to a broker contact, are receiving container parcel offers on a “daily basis”.

“It can be a bit more complicated to take boxes in the holds, but we have fixed several intra-Europe lots on MPVs in the past year by stowing containers on deck and on the hatch covers when we have general cargo in the hold,” he said.

Again, this is good news for the shipowners seeing their assets appreciate on the back of increased daily hire rates. Although nowhere near the massive hikes seen in the container sector, average daily hire rates for MPVs have doubled in the past 18 months, to some $10,500 a day.

Susan Oatway, senior analyst for multipurpose and breakbulk shipping at Drewry, told The Loadstar today there was “softening” of rates towards the end of the year, but her outlook for the sector remained “cautiously optimistic”.

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