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Maersk has lost its top spot as the world’s most reliable shipping line, according to the latest figures from Drewry Maritime Advisors, in only the second time in 13 quarters. The Danish carrier, which saw its reliability decline by 0.5% to 89.9% was supplanted by Hanjin, which beefed up its service some 2% to give it 90.2% reliability.

However, Simon Heaney, Drewry’s research manager containers, noted that Maersk had achieved 100% reliability on its Asia-Europe trade, where its time-definite Daily Maersk service is in operation.

According to Drewry’s figures, containership reliability reached a record high in the fourth quarter of 2012, with on-time ship arrivals across all trades reaching 79.9%, a rise of 6.4 percentage points over the third quarter.

However, Mr Heaney expected reliability figures for the first quarter of this year to decline, due to the combined effects of skipped sailings and Chinese New Year.

“I think we will find an inevitable knock-on effect from these. The ideal scenario is to have a smooth network that does not need any adjustments, and any sort of late tinkering to schedules which means departure times might be delayed, or departures cancelled altogether, is going to make it very hard for carriers to meet advertised ETAs.

“Generally there has been a trend for carriers to improve reliability – this was a record quarter; and 2012 a record year – but it is not solely down to the carriers. The previous quarter was blighted by some bad storms in Asia, which affected the Asia-based carriers and the fourth quarter saw them generally improve reliability by 10-15% as they, literally, had much calmer waters.”

The new ship reliability record eclipses the previous best of 75.7% set in the second quarter of 2012.

On the transpacific trade, reliability trended down over the quarter, although Mr Heaney added, “It was still within a record period – it’s been up above 80% since the fourth quarter of 2011, which is a huge improvement historically, as it was at 41% in the first quarter of 2010, largely because at that time there were a number of smaller carriers on the trade who didn’t have good reliability at all and have subsequently left.”

October saw 84% of transpacific sailings arrive on time, growing to 87% in November, although reliability fell to just 72% in December, largely as a result of the eight-day strike in the ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach.

Cancelled services, which have become more prevalent as overcapacity and weak demand continue to stalk the industry, are very significant to shippers, but currently have little effect on the statistics, explained Mr Heaney.

“The report measures both sailing reliability and shipment reliability, so blank sailings will have no effect on sailing reliability because there obviously needs to be a complete voyage for us to measure that.

“So what we will doing in the future is keeping a track of all the individual skipped sailings and seeing how these impact on shipment reliability.”

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