© Sheila Fitzgerald

MSC is preparing its network for a standalone operation after its exits the 2M east-west vessel-sharing agreement with Maersk at the end of next year – although many in the industry believe the split will happen by mutual consent sooner than that.

Sources cite increasingly acrimonious exchanges over vessel-blanking strategies and fierce competition for customers, along with differences over the status of hub ports within the alliance network.

MSC has confirmed that it was Maersk that wanted to terminate the 2M alliance. CEO Soren Toft told CNBC’s Lori Ann LaRocco last month that Maersk “wanted to go into a different trajectory”.

The overall market value of MSC’s fleet, including ships on order, has reached a staggering $19bn, according to Vesselsvalue. Half is the net worth of the carrier’s existing fleet and the balance is the cost of its huge 1.7m teu orderbook.

Since August 2020, MSC has hoovered-up more than 300 second-hand container vessels to take its operating fleet capacity to 4.9m teu. During this period the Geneva-headquartered carrier usurped Maersk, with its 4.2m teu fleet, from its long-held position as the top-ranked carrier, in terms of capacity.

Maersk’s global integrator aspirations and focus on ordering newbuild vessels powered by green fuels has kept its orderbook to just 370,000 teu, and it is now under threat of being overtaken by third-ranked carrier CMA CGM. The French carrier has a fleet of 3.4m teu and is growing its market share, also supported by aggressive activity in the S&P and charter markets and an impressive million-teu orderbook.

Meanwhile, Vesselsvalue noted that the acquisition by MSC last week of the 2003-built 6,078 teu Lisbon for $22.5m had taken the carrier’s second-hand ship purchases so far this year to 12, which included nine post-panamax ships and three panamax vessels for an average age of 20 years.

And, according to the maritime intelligence company, MSC is due to receive four more 24,000 teu new vessels in the coming weeks, the MSC Claude GirardetMSC Gemma and two ULCVs yet to be named.

Thereafter, the carrier is concentrating its newbuilding programme on the mid- and smaller sizes, most of which are due to be delivered from next year onwards. These include series of 16,000 teu and 15,500 teu vessels, a number of 11,400 teu units, three of 7,872 teu and some smaller ships.

According to Alphaliner data, 54% of MSC’s capacity remains chartered-in – 295 vessels of its 746-strong operating fleet – so some of the newbuild arrivals could be replacing vessels currently has on hire.

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