Port of Mombasa Kenya Photo 116775285 © Druid007 Dreamstime.com
Port of Mombasa Kenya © Druid007 Dreamstime.com.

Secondary services have suffered as ocean carriers redeployed tonnage to more lucrative Asia-Europe and Asia-to-US tradelanes.

However, with port congestion on those major routes sucking in so much of their capacity, carriers are starting to reassess their networks for better opportunities.

Moreover, the blank sailings and unreliable services on other trades within their networks have opened the door for challenger operators to take market share from the established carriers.

Indeed, the VSA partnership of ONE and Hapag-Lloyd has reacted to shipper pressure to offer a “more reliable service” from Asia to East Africa by splitting their current weekly loop into two services next month.

“The EA3 with a Mombasa loop (including Qingdao) and the EA4’s Dar Es Salaam loop will provide greater frequency and a more stable schedule,” said ONE.

The EA3 replaces ONE’s EAF service and is expected to commence a weekly loop from Qingdao on 13 March, with a rotation of: Shanghai, Ningbo, Nansha, Singapore, Port Kelang, Mombasa, Port Kelang, Singapore, Nansha and Qingdao.

The carrier’s new EA4 service is stemmed to start from Shanghai on 10 March, with a weekly loop of Ningbo, Nansha, Singapore, Port Kelang, Dar Es Salaam, Port Kelang, Singapore and Shanghai.

Meanwhile, in an advisory to its Asia-East Africa customers, Hapag-Lloyd said the upgrade of its EAS3 service into two loops “will feature dedicated services to match the market capacity demands towards major Asian ports”.

The carrier added: “In a nutshell, our East Africa and Asia EAS3 loop will be focusing its service capabilities to connecting Kenya with Asia, while our brand new EAS4 will ensure a direct link between Tanzania with Asia.”

Hapag-Lloyd claimed the extra dedicated loop on the tradelane would “ensure planning flexibility” for customers.

According to maritime and supply chain intelligence firm eeSea, the current EAF/EAS3 loop deploys eight vessels with an average capacity of 2,745 teu.

As it stands eeSea has the VSA with 70% of capacity contributed by ONE and 30% from Hapag-Lloyd, but the carriers have not advised which will provide the extra ships for the new loop. The 2,664 teu NYK Clara appears to be the mainstay of the existing service, the NYK-owned regularly featuring in the loop’s port calls.

According to Alphaliner, this size of ship is completely “sold out” on the charter market, meaning that ONE and Hapag-Lloyd may be obliged to raid some of their other services for tonnage to meet the new commitments for the enhanced loops.

It is clear from studying the eeSea data that the existing loop has suffered from a number of blank sailings on its pro-forma schedule, suggesting poor reliability issues prompted the VSA partners to take a fresh look at how they serve customers on the route.

And it is a discussion no doubt going on between VSA partners serving a number of other secondary routes, as they weigh up the risks of losing market share to new liner operators due to their schedule integrity issues.

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