© Mohamed Ahmed Soliman
© Mohamed Ahmed Soliman

Ocean carriers CMA CGM, COSCO Container Lines, Evergreen and OOCL have signed a Memorandum of Understanding to form a new mega-alliance designed to challenge Maersk Line and MSC’s 2M grouping on east-west trades.

Dubbed the Ocean Alliance, the proposed grouping would bring the world’s 3rd, 4th, 5th and 9th biggest container lines together in a vessel-sharing agreement but leave the other top 20 carriers scrambling to compete and stay in the Asia – Europe and transpacific markets.

According to Alphaliner’s data the proposed new Ocean Alliance’s east-west capacity would be some 500,000 teu larger than the 2.1m teu capacity of the 2M.

“This is a milestone agreement among four of the world’s leading container shipping lines,” noted a joint statement released today. “Each line will offer best-in-class services to customers with fast transit times, competitive sailing frequencies, and the most extensive port coverage in the market,” it added.

The agreement is subject to regulatory approval from the Federal Maritime Commission in the US, the European Commission and China’s Ministry of Transportation, but after the lessons learned from the failed P3 alliance of Maersk, MSC and CMA CGM it seems likely that the partners would already have had a ‘nod’ of approval before making the announcement.

The new alliance is set to begin in April next year, following CMA CGM withdrawing APL from the G6 alliance.

Speaking at a roundtable session at TOC Asia today, Kenneth Glenn, chief executive of APL, said that APL was not part of the discussion as its acquisition by CMA CGM had yet to close. He confirmed that APL would remain a G6 alliance member until April 2017.

“As a general comment however, I think it is a positive sign because carriers understand that they need to be as competitive as possible on both service and costs, and it appears to be the formation of a very formidable group of carriers with an extensive array of services. I see that it is not just the main east-west deep sea trades but also Asia-Middle East and Red Sea, and this shows carriers are continually evolving the service offering.”

The alliance shake-up will force the hands of the remaining players to quickly choose their strongest partners from the remnants of the CKYHE, G6 and O3 alliances to form a new third mega-alliance.

Robbert van Trooijen CEO of Maersk Line in Asia, told delegates at TOC Asia: “At Maersk we welcome this development because whenever we see such alliances forming it helps to create stability in the industry.”

Of the eight remaining carriers, a grouping of Hapag-Lloyd (G6), UASC (O3), Yang Ming (CKYHE), together with the Japanese lines, NYK (G6), K Line (CKYHE) and MOL (G6), would be the most likely scenario, thus omitting troubled South Korean carriers, Hanjin (CKYHE) and HMM (G6) from the alliance equation.

Commenting on the formation of the Ocean Alliance, Rodolphe Saade, vice president of the CMA CGM Group said: “The Ocean Alliance is a very ambitious operational agreement.”

And the newly merged COSCO Container Lines managing director, Wang Haimin, said: “The Ocean Alliance is a better match for our globalisation strategy.”

Evergreen’s chief executive, Lawrence Lee, commented that the new alliance would enable it to “optimise fleet deployment and offer a competitive service to meet customers’ changing demand”.

And Andy Tung, chief executive of OOCL remarked: “The new alliance will also be a platform for our ongoing growth as well as improve our cost and efficiency.”

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