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Feeders ships are expected to get boxes into smaller UK ports © Joseph Golby

The acute shortage of open cellular containerships has helped to boost the embattled multipurpose vessel  (MPV) charter market.

Ocean carriers, feeder operators and now major forwarders, looking to mitigate the impact of a dearth of available containerships and a capacity crunch, are in the market to charter “container-friendly” MPVs.

The Loadstar reported yesterday on DSV’s “extraordinary” move to independently charter three MPV vessels of some 19-28,000 dwt, capable of carrying up to 1,200 teu for single trips from Shanghai to Aarhus, departing before Christmas.

Flemming Ole Nielsen, EVP investor relations, said today: “For now, this is only for one trip with each of the three 700-1,200 teu vessels, so I don’t think we can call it a service. It is an extraordinary initiative, driven by the extreme lack of capacity in the market.”

One Hamburg-based broker told The Loadstar today he thought the fixtures were “opportunist”.

“The owners wanted the ships back here and DSV was desperate to get its boxes out of China, so it works well for both parties,” he said.

However, he cautioned DSV: “Don’t expect to get anywhere near the nominal teu capacity on these ships. The actual intake will be far less due to mix of cargo and stability of the vessel.

“The master will probably not be used to carrying containers and he will certainly not be happy with a cargo load of mainly 40ft high-cube boxes of the same weight,” he added.

According to charter market chatter, prior to the fixture with DSV, the owners were intending to ballast their ships to North Europe, where they were set to command several lucrative round-trip fixtures relaying UK imports from several Asia loops, which plan to omit Felixstowe calls in January.

A carrier source told The Loadstar recently feeders for the thousands of stranded UK destined import containers would be kept “well away” from the main container ports.

“We plan to feed the boxes into the smaller ports around the UK and pick up empties on the return leg,” he said.

Meanwhile, Drewry’s latest assessment of its MPV time-charter index recorded a promising month-on-month increase of 2.8% for November, with the consultant expecting a further 3.7% rise this month.

Owners of breakbulk, project cargo and heavylift ships struggled to see returns on their investments prior to the pandemic, and a further contraction in demand due to Covid-19 has added to the gloomy outlook.

So the interest from the container sector is welcome news for the employment prospects of the underutilised MPV fleet.

Susan Oatway, senior analyst for multipurpose and breakbulk shipping at Drewry, said there were signs that the shortage of capacity in the container sector was “having a positive effect”.

“While we can see there is a definite correlation with recent rate rises, it is worth noting that the so-called container friendly MPVs are few and far between,” she said, adding that there could be a further upside for the MPV market in that shippers that had previously converted their business to containerisation could move back to general cargo and specialist heavylift ships.

“The likelihood is that shippers will move some cargo back to breakbulk, opening this potential demand surge to the rest of the MPV fleet.”

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