Maersk’s forwarding and NVOCC customers are being targeted by competitor lines as the Danish carrier prepares to restrict their bookings to its online Maersk Spot platform next year.

Meanwhile, container spot rate indices, the bedrock for the Maersk platform, are bucking the usual slack season trend and holding steady at highly-elevated levels.

A UK-based NVOCC told The Loadstar this morning his Maersk rep had admitted he could no longer offer him a three-month deal from Asia to North Europe, and that he would now have to book online, via Maersk Spot, to cover any short-term space requirements.

However, the NVOCC was assured by the rep that he could still discuss a longer-term contract with Maersk, due to the forwarder’s reliable volume.

“I haven’t heard back yet, but I know the guy well and I’m sure he was not just playing me along on the contract options,” he said.

Nevertheless, the contact said he’d had “more calls than normal” from other carriers with some “decent offers”.

“The calls came out of the blue and they were obviously reacting to the rumours circulating that Maersk could be dropping all its forwarding customers,” he said.

Another forwarding contact told The Loadstar this week he would no longer deal with Maersk, as he had caught the carrier “tapping some of our clients with offers of discounted long-term deals, and that finished it for me”, he said.

The large international forwarder in question will be on the radar of all the carriers, but many smaller forwarders that have contracts with Maersk, or its subsidiary Hamburg Süd, will hope they can secure substitute deals with other lines. But if they are forced onto the spot markets, any hope that freight rates are about to collapse to some form of pre-pandemic normal appear very optimistic.

“December looks like another bullish month for container freight rates, with increasing supply constraints caused by global concern over the Omicron variant,” said Peter Stallion, head of air & containers at Freight Investor Services.

Indeed, the Asia-North Europe spot rate components of both the FBX (Freightos Baltic Index) and WCI (World Container Index) were both flat this week, at $14,352 and $13,500 per 40ft, respectively.

It was a similar story for spots from Asia to Mediterranean ports, with the FBX stable at $13,198 and the WCI unchanged at $12,480 per 40ft.

On the transpacific, the FBX was flat from Asia to the US, with its west coast reading at $14,800 and the east coast at $16,749, per 40ft.

However, Drewry’s WCI, which does not include premium fees, slipped 4% this week, to $9,698 per 40ft and fell by 5% for US east coast ports, to $12,582 per 40ft.

Nevertheless, most analysts expect rates to hold firm on the tradelane, or even to head north again in the build-up to the Chinese New Year in early February.

“The market remains historically expensive, with little prospect of this changing any time soon,” said Mr Stallion.

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