The Suez Canal blockage last month heaped more pressure on the already stretched supply chain, encouraging further entrepreneurial extra loaders from Asia to North Europe.

Alphaliner reports that China United Lines (CULines) is offering two more ad hoc sailings this month following the success of its first sailing in February and a second last month.

CULines has taken on round-trip charters of the Chinese-owned 2009-built 4,395 teu Ren Jian 25, along with the five-year-old Greek-owned 2,034 teu Aisopos 11, with both ships loading in China this week.

The Ren Jian 25 is scheduled to load at Qingdao, Ningbo, Shanghai, Xiamen, Nansha, Hong Kong and Yantian, and will also call at Ho Chi Minh and Singapore for Antwerp, Rotterdam and Hamburg. The smaller Aisopos 11 will call at Ningbo, Hong Kong and Yantian for Rotterdam and Hamburg. Both will be available to load North European exports, topped up by empty equipment back to China.

However, it remained unclear if the vessels will then start a second voyage from Asia to North Europe. Much will depend on how long the major carriers on the route take to recover their schedules after the Suez disruption.

In a customer advisory yesterday, Maersk said the impact on its schedules would last “well into May” and that it expected the situation to “remain tight into the third quarter” – which means into the peak season.

After halting the acceptance of short-term contract and Maersk Spot bookings following the Suez blockage, the carrier has resumed booking, but said that “full acceptance of short-term bookings is being determined by port and equipment availability”.

The recovery strategy of Maersk and its peers has left shippers in Asia scrambling for space “on any vessel, at any price”, according to a Chinese NVOCC contact.

The source said he had heard of rates of $15,000 or more per 40ft being offered in the market this week for prompt shipment to Antwerp and Rotterdam.

“CULines will have no problem filling the ships several times over,” he said.

The Chinese carrier’s first sailing to North Europe by the 2,702 teu Laila was in partnership with Dusseldorf-based international purchasing association XSTAFF.

Formed in 2016, by the Swiss COOP group and Belgian Colruyt group, the XSTAFF reach was expanded in 2019 with the addition of Spanish fashion giants Mango and Tendam. XSTAFF claimed its ability to bundle together its partner volumes “achieves better conditions” from carriers.

“Since the transport volume usually decides the due prices, XSTAFF achieves considerable cost savings for its network partners,” it said.

Chairman Bodo Knop said in February the difficult market situation had prompted the partnership with CULines.

“We decided to take matters into our own hands and offer our own transport capacities,” said Mr Knop.

At the time of going to press, The Loadstar had not been able to determine from XSTAFF whether it would have any involvement in the upcoming sailings.

Nonetheless, at current rate levels the operator of the two sailings stands to make a significant profit on the voyages and this will encourage more entrepreneurial ad hoc sailings from Asia to Europe, and possibly new liner services, potentially challenging the dominance of the three main alliances on the route.

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  • Gary Ferrulli

    April 21, 2021 at 4:31 pm

    No one or two or three entities with 2 x 4300 teu ships is going to interrupt or change the alliances dominant position in any major global market.