With the containership charter market virtually sold out across all sizes, MSC is continuing to expand its fleet with a series of opportunist boxship purchases.

It is thereby closing the capacity gap on its 2M partner, Maersk.

According to Alphaliner, MSC has “embarked on a massive buying spree of second-hand tonnage worth around $180m, anticipating asset price rises, on the back of a fast-improving charter market”.

The consultant described the daily hire rates on the very few charter ships that become open as “going through the roof”, and it seems that MSC’s ambitious plans for growth have turned to buying second-hand tonnage.

Transactions by MSC, both on the charter and S&P (sales & purchase) markets, are kept closely under wraps, but Alphaliner said it understood that the carrier was buying four 8,200-8,500 teu Zeaborn Ship Management-controlled ships for a total price of $114m.

And, according to vesselsvalue.com data, MSC purchased a quartet of 2006-built 8,533 teu sister vessels, the ER Tianping, ER Tianshan, ER Tokyo and ER Texas, on 30 October for $28m each.

Interestingly, MSC had the ER Texas under time-charter until June 2021 at $12,400 per day, but was paying double that, $25,000 per day, for the ER Tokyo.

The Tianshan appears to be still under charter to Maersk at an undisclosed daily hire rate, but the fourth sister ship, Tianping, is under charter to Zim until March next year at a daily rate of $24,500.

Notwithstanding that MSC is taking on the role of the shipowner for the vessels that have attached charters to Maersk and Zim, its strategy is to insulate itself against skyrocketing charter rates and to support its aggressive growth policy with additional tonnage.

Indeed, an S&P broker The Loadstar spoke to this week described MSC’s interest: “They are interested in virtually anything that floats.”

With its recent purchases, MSC has further narrowed the capacity gap with Maersk, which now stands – with its orderbook – at some 160,000 teu, a margin that could easily be overcome with an order of new ULCVs.

Meanwhile, Alphaliner’s latest idle tonnage survey shows the inactive containership tonnage fleet has virtually halved in the past two months.

As of 26 October, Alphaliner recorded 107 ships for 378,802 teu as inactive, compared with 198 vessels for 799,643 teu on 31 August.

“The container charter market continues its bullish journey, with charter rates rising quickly for all ship types, on the back of an increasingly tight supply,” said Alphaliner.

The consultant reported a “dearth of available tonnage” in the larger containership sizes, with most sectors setting new records for daily hire rates. Of particular note  was that 4,000-5,300 teu classic panamaxes, which Alphaliner said had suffered “years of misery”, were now achieving rates that would have been “unthinkable only a few months ago”.

Illustrating this, the consultant reported a five-month charter for a 5,000 teu ship recently concluded by Hapag-Lloyd at $25,000 per day, which is five times the level that could have been achieved just over two years ago.

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