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The cavalier attitude of ocean carriers towards the ordering of new ultra-large tonnage is almost entirely to blame for the current dire market conditions within the container industry and the collapse of the charter market, according to a respected maritime consultant.

Alphaliner said that the gravity facing containership owners compared with that during the financial crisis in 2009, but suggests that the context is now “rather different”.

“This time, carriers’ reckless order wave of the past few years is largely to blame for the overcapacity that wreaks havoc to the market,” said Alphaliner, “while the poor health of the world economy has only made things worse.”

The full extent of the carnage exacted on the boxship charter market in 2015 was recounted by Alphaliner in its latest update.

It said that after a “wind of optimism” that had prevailed among containership owners in the first half of the year it became obvious by August that the market was changing direction, which would eventually lead to a rate collapse.

Indeed, in the last weeks of 2015 daily hire rates for containerships of over 4,000 teu plunged to all-time lows.

For example; according to Alphaliner’s data, charter rates for an 8,800 teu ship plummeted from $31,000 per day in the first half of the year to $8,000 in the second half as demand almost totally dried up.

The influence of the ‘big three’ container lines, Maersk, MSC and CMA CGM, on the charter market is substantial: between them they accounted for 36% of the chartering activity in 2015, according to Alphaliner’s records.

Hence, as their new mega-container vessels have been delivered for Asia-Europe deployment, the trio have cascaded incumbent ships into smaller trades and off-hired, or not extended, smaller boxships, thus exacerbating the difficulties for the weakening charter market.

Looking ahead, Alphaliner said that the prospects for 7,500 teu to 9,000 teu ships could improve later in the year with the opening of the new Panama locks as carriers prepare to “shake-up service patterns” to reduce unit costs.

However, what is potentially good news for the owners of bigger vessels, is very bad news for the current fleet of panamax containerships.

“The situation can only get worse in 2016 for conventional panamaxes, already vastly affected by a chronic oversupply” said the consultant. “The new Panama locks are expected to open at the start of the peak season, just when panamax chartering activity picks up as seasonal Asia-US east coast loops are launched.

“This time, it will be much larger ships that stand to benefit, leaving many traditional panamaxes stranded,” it said.

In terms of other smaller sectors, Alphaliner’s view is again mostly negative for the year, given the cascade impact from panamax ships looking for any form of employment. In fact, it suggests that the only size of containership likely to enjoy a positive outlook this year is in the 1,000-1,800 teu sector.

These vessels, notes Alphaliner, could benefit from the dearth of newbuilding ships of this size coming on stream and their niche deployment requirement for trades that have physical restrictions such as in draught or length.