idle ships © Eq Roy
© Eq Roy

The number of containerships in lay-up has dipped below 100, according to Alphaliner.

Its latest survey reveals strong demand and tightening availability of tonnage which is putting the brakes on vessel scrapping.

As at 8 January, there were 99 vessels, equating to 377,784 teu, anchored in hot or cold lay-up. This compares with 351 ships for 950,000 teu a year ago.

At 1.8% of the global cellular fleet, idled container tonnage is at its lowest level since mid-2015.

“The availability of tonnage is tightening for all sectors below 6,000 teu, and this has been reflected in strengthening charter rates,” said the consultant.

In particular it noted that there had been a “remarkable change in fortunes” for the panamax sector, with only 13 3,000-5,100 teu ships still seeking employment, against the 99 unemployed units of 12 months ago.

Indeed, one broker source told The Loadstar today that finding a spot panamax vessel in Europe was “becoming increasingly difficult”.

He said: “Most of the available ships are at anchor in Asia, and even some of those would need at least a couple of weeks to be reactivated.”

He added that on the plus side, charterers were extending available options which, he suggested, would mean daily hire rates increasing.

Reports are also coming in of charterers talking again of 12-month or even 24-month hires, a sign that cargo owners believe they need to lock into today’s rates rather than stick to their previous strategy of fixing for three-month-plus options.

In the past month, the market rate for panamax ships has jumped by $1,000 to some $9,000 per day, and the broker said he expected a further surge in the weeks before the Chinese New Year holiday in mid-February.

Demand is also strong in the 5,000-7,500 teu sizes, but brokers are reporting “mixed fortunes” for owners of 7,500 teu vessels and above.

Alphaliner noted “healthier” charter rates for certain higher-specification vessels, but suggested the environment remained “fragile” for the sector, due to the large number of newbuild ultra-large container vessels (ULCV) slated for delivery in the first six months of the year.

Their arrival will cause significant cascading, particularly of the 8,000-10,000 teu sizes, warned the consultant.

And with the supply/demand balance for tonnage tilting back in their favour, owners of older containerships are adopting a ‘wait and see’ approach to recycling, despite improving scrap rates. London shipbroker Braemar ACM reported this week that so far this year there has not been a single container vessel sold for demolition, compared with 20 of 60,500 teu sold for scrap in the same period of 2017.

Meanwhile, in the first two weeks of this year, 13 newbuild vessels, with a nominal intake of 118,500 teu, have been delivered, most being phased into the Asia-Europe tradelane.

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