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This week, MSC will again blank its standalone Swan loop from Asia to North Europe, due it said to “slowing demand”.

It is the third consecutive week the carrier has cancelled the Swan service and shippers are starting to question whether it will be suspended, albeit temporarily.

“It’s quite unusual for a carrier to blank a loop week after week,” a director of a UK-based forwarder told The Loadstar. “It could be that MSC will put this service on the back burner until demand improves.”

The 2M’s Swan/AE2 loop was suspended during the pandemic and not reinstated by MSC and Maersk when demand recovered. However, in May MSC decided to bring it back as a standalone loop outside the vessel-sharing agreement.

Notwithstanding the blankings, MSC has announced that from the end of August that it would add Busan in South Korea and the German port of Bremerhaven to the Swan itinerary, “to meet client demand”.

Alphaliner said the additions “should help fill the 13,000-14,000 teu ships MSC has nominated for the next sailings from Asia”.

Meanwhile, the 13,988 teu MSC Deila will sit at anchor for another week, until either the Swan service resumes, or until it is redeployed elsewhere.

Another NVOCC contact speculated that the blanking could be to support MSC’s FAK rate increase, announced on 3 August. New base FAK rates from Asia to North Europe from today are: $947 per 20ft; and $1,694 per 40ft. The rates are subject to bunker and ECA (emissions control area) surcharges.

Carriers on the tradelane have had some success in implementing 1 August GRIs, causing a spike in container spot rate indices. However, yesterday’s Ningbo Containerized Freight Index (NCFI) commentary suggested the impact of the rate hikes could be short-lived.

“Space on the Europe route is generally sufficient, and carriers have lowered freight rates to try to attract cargo,” it said.

Nevertheless, there are some demand positives emerging that could assist shipping lines to not only hold onto their August GRI gains, but prompt them to push for another increase in September.

Indeed, during Hapag-Lloyd’s Q2 earnings call presentation last week, CEO Rolf Habben Jansen had some optimism of a modest peak season demand boost. He said: “When I look at the loadings we have had over the last ten weeks, they are up versus the previous year, and we also see more cases where we are really full and now getting close to having to roll cargo.

“We are not the only ones that see that, which is why you see spot rates coming up on a number of key trades. The question is how long is it going to last, and of course you only know that when it is over,” he added.