Hanjin Subic Bay
Hanjin's Subic Bay shipbuilding facility

As ocean carriers reel from a disastrous first half this year, they seem to have lost lost their appetite for ordering ultra-large container vessels (ULCVs).

According to Alphaliner, interest in large containerships of above 9,000 teu “has largely vanished” from shipyards.

Poor market conditions have already forced several owners to delay the delivery of vessels, the consultant said, noting that about a dozen completed newbuildings “have not yet been commissioned”.

They include five 11,010 teu ships built by Hanjin’s Philippines Shipyard at Subic Bay, running about 10 months late on delivery as owner Costamare has struggled to secure their long-term employment.

Meanwhile, the world’s biggest containership lessor, Seaspan, has been obliged to significantly delay the October delivery of four 10,000 teu ships under construction at China’s Yangzijiang Shipyard until next year. And CEO Gerry Wang indicated last week, during the company’s interim results presentation, that Seaspan may request further deferrals, into 2018, if charters were not forthcoming.

Alphaliner suggests it could take up to three years for the market to absorb the current containership orderbook, which stands at 3.48m teu.

For the existing fleet, the charter market remains at historically low levels as the capacity oversupply continues, despite the onset of the summer peak season, and a record number of ships having been sold for scrap so far this year.

Alphaliner said the market for classic panamax (4,000-5,100 teu) ships was “getting worse by the day”, with a new record of 75 vessels currently seeking employment, up from 60 that were idle two weeks ago.

The acceleration in the flow of redeliveries of panamax vessels has increased in recent weeks with the upsizing of many Asia-US east coast ships transiting the expanded Panama Canal.

Flexible options, free positioning and hire rates barely above $5,000 a day make grim reading for owners – that is if they can even fix their ships – forcing them into scrapping vessels barely halfway through their expected working lives and that only 18 months ago were able to command daily hire rates of $17,000 or more.

The only bright spots for owners are in the smaller, 2,500, 1,700 and 1,000 teu, sectors, where demand remains reasonable and daily hire rates now exceed those of their bigger sisters.

Meanwhile, the recent negotiations between Hyundai Merchant Marine (HMM) and shipowners provides an insight into the collapse of the containership charter market over the past five years.

After several rounds of tough negotiations, the carrier has agreed deals with most of the owners of its chartered-in containerships to obtain a 20% reduction in charter hire for three-and-a-half years in exchange for equity in a restructured HMM.

In one example, revealed this week, HMM succeeded in cutting the charter hire on five wide-beamed 5,023 teu vessels, supplied by Athens-based Capital Product Partners, to $23,480 a day, from the $29,350 agreed in 2011.

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