hapag-lloyd © Hieronymusukkel
© Hieronymusukkel

THE Alliance lead line Hapag-Lloyd has signed a slot charter agreement with rival 2M alliance partners Maersk and MSC to start in March.

On Friday, the German carrier said: “The addition of these services will enable Hapag-Lloyd to offer an even higher frequency of weekly departures and more routing options, as well as to directly serve additional ports with high schedule reliability.”

It added that details of the 2M loops or services it would use would be communicated “in the upcoming weeks”.

The announcement came just a day after THE Alliance unveiled its expanded service network incorporating South Korean carrier HMM as a new partner from 1 April.

The revised network features five Asia-North Europe loops, which will include the deployment of two 20,000-plus teu ULCVs supplied by HMM.

THE Alliance members said the “newly enhanced product package will offer increasing frequency particularly from South-east Asia, as well as new direct port coverage and improved transit times”.

But clearly the improvements were not comprehensive enough for Hapag-Lloyd, hence the deal with 2M.

So far, The Loadstar has not seen a comment or confirmation from either Maersk or MSC on the deal, which may change when the 2M announces its 1 April network update, understood to be later this week.

Currently, HMM is still paying for slots on 2M Asia-North Europe services under the 2M + HMM strategic cooperation agreement that expires on 31 March, but it is understood that it has been using more and more slots on THE Alliance services, an interim deal struck with the VSA group after it culled its standalone Asia-North Europe service last August.

The Loadstar reported then that the reasoning behind the early deal with THE Alliance, after its standalone service had racked up substantial losses, was commercial pressure from its Korean electronics customers, who had complained that they were unable to guarantee shipment on nominated 2M vessels.

A source close to the situation told The Loadstar  HMM was “always the last to know” about service disruptions on 2M vessels.

Nevertheless, the loss of HMM’s guaranteed slot purchase will have been a blow to the 2M and the Hapag-Lloyd deal represents some compensation.

But a slot-charter deal with a rival alliance does not come without commercial risks, which no doubt Hapag-Lloyd considered when making the agreement.

Moreover, the crossover deal by a full member of one alliance with another might not help the cause of carriers in getting their Block Exemption Regulation (BER) extended, which is due to expire in April.

The European Commission has proposed that the BER, which allows carriers to participate in operational alliances with a market share of up to 30% on trades serving the EU, be extended until 2024, and it is the process of holding consultations with industry stakeholders.

However, shippers have slammed the EC’s decision to extend the BER claiming it had ignored the views of exporters and importers.

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