The big ship craze appears to have spread to the shortsea shipping industry serving the UK, after investment in the sector was frozen during the past few years.

Speakers at this year’s Multimodal event in Birmingham questioned whether there would be enough capacity in the medium term to serve the country’s freight needs.

Richard Horsewill, director of freight for the UK and Ireland at Stena Line, told delegates: “In the ferry industry, we are still recovering from the financial crisis and recession, when volumes fell, which has meant that in the past few years, capacity and demand have become more balanced.

“But post-recession, there has been a lack of investment in ships.”


However, he added, in recent months, both Stena Line and Belgian ro-ro operator CldN have placed orders for new tonnage.

Stena Line has ordered four ro-pax ferries with 3,000 lane metres capacity each, from a shipyard in China, due for delivery in 2019 and 2020. CldN, which operates the Cobelfret brand, has ordered two enormous ro-ro vessels of 8,000 lane metres, with an option for a further four.

“More capacity is coming in later, but the question is whether there will be enough capacity to meet market demand in the medium term,” Mr Horsewill added.

He also said that, whereas today’s ferries were bespoke-built for particular routes, the newbuilds the Swedish company has ordered will be far more flexible in terms of trading areas.

“We will be building more ramps at the ports we use, so we can be more flexible about the way the fleet is deployed,” Mr Horsewill said.

But Mark Copsey, chief commercial officer at MacAndrews, a UK shortsea shipping specialist owned by CMA CGM, that trend has yet to replicated in the lo-lo sector.

“In the lo-lo sector, nobody is investing in new tonnage of the right size, so we are running with older tonnage in the shortsea and feeder trades in Northern Europe.

“For the type of service we run, the 800-900 teu size is the best, but these vessels are also in demand in other markets and are being drained from this region,” he said.

However, fears of potential undercapacity in both sectors might not be realised, should legislative changes lead to a modal shift from the sea to road transport.

Richard Newton, commercial director of logistics at Port of Tyne, said: “We are very worried that, with the forthcoming amendment to the SOLAS regulations – with shippers forced to declare the verified gross mass (VGM) of containers – shippers won’t have their VGMs in time to load their boxes on ships, and this could lead them to look for other transport modes, such as road or trains, where they don’t have to declare this information.

“It’s clear that we might lose volumes to road due to this,” he said, adding that carriers themselves needed to adopt a common VGM policy.

“Some shipping lines are saying they will have nothing to do with weighing, while others want the ports to do it. From a shipper’s point of view, there needs to be a consistent approach,” he said.

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