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The market share of independent container shipping services on the major east-west deepsea trades has climbed in recent months and, according to new data from Sea-Intelligence Consulting, is returning to pandemic-era levels.

According to the analyst, as many as a third of services offered on the transpacific trade over the next three months are expected to be provided outside of vessel-sharing agreements, including express services operated independently by alliance-member carriers.

“The Asia-North America West Coast tradelane is poised to see a sharp increase in the capacity share of non-alliance services in the coming months,” said Sea-Intelligence chief executive Alan Murphy. “The data shows that nearly 30% of the deployed capacity on the tradelane is scheduled to be offered on services operated outside of the alliance structures.

“We see a similar pattern for Asia-North Europe, but less so for Asia-North America East Coast and Asia-Mediterranean.

“On Asia-North Europe, if the current 12-week outlook holds, we will see record levels – touching 12% – of non-alliance capacity,” he added.

These independent services include MSC’s new Asia-North Europe Britannia service, which will see a direct call at the UK port of Liverpool as its first stop in Europe, as well as the return of Ellerman City Lines to the trade with a couple of China-UK sailings, advertised for this month and next. The carrier had originally joined the trade during the pandemic demand boom.

Mr Murphy added: “The subsequent surge in demand for goods, coupled with rising spot rates, prompted a significant influx of non-alliance capacity into the market. So much so, that even on Asia-North Europe, which had predominantly been an alliance operated trade, saw the entry of several niche carriers offering solitary services.”

Many subsequently exited the trade when spot rates fell in the latter part of 2022 and early 2023, but the market has again swung in their favour.

“Across the main east-west trades, it is clear that the main driver of the non-alliance share is spot rates; a sharp increase during the pandemic triggered a sharp increase in non-alliance services – and vice versa when spot rates collapsed in the second half of 2022.

“This pattern is now repeating, as the sharp spot rate increases seen in recent months, again coincide with an increase in non-alliance services,” he added.

However, next year the market share of alliances vs independent shipping services will change more fundamentally, once the divorce of the Maersk and MSC 2M partnership is completed and MSC begins life as a fully independent carrier.

With the Geneva-headquartered carrier now controlling around 20% of global container shipping capacity, and set to operate entirely outside the formal alliance structure, the era of east-west trade being largely controlled by three VSAs appears to be over.

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