© Denys Yelmanov |

In practice, the 2025 termination of the 2M vessel-sharing agreement (VSA) between Maersk and MSC is likely to come much sooner.

And, like in any divorce, reducing the animosity of the break-up during the ‘decree nisi’ period will be challenging.

Acrimony will likely surface in operational meetings, and especially at the commercial level as sales staff compete at a heightened consciousness, boosted by customer reaction to the change.

“The gloves are really off now between those two,” a carrier contact told The Loadstar this morning.

With current capacity of 4.6m teu and a huge orderbook, of 1.8m teu, MSC’s aspirations are clearly to become a standalone carrier across the major tradelanes of the world.

However, Maersk, with its focus on becoming a global integrator and seemingly content to keep its capacity to about 4.2m teu, will need to find another partner or partners on the Asia-Europe, transpacific and transatlantic tradelanes.

This could result in a new ‘merry-go-round’ of carriers jockeying to vessel-share in the strongest alliance, with some weaker lines the last to be selected in the biggest carrier cooperation shake-up since 2017.

And the 2M termination comes as carriers will start to report much weaker earnings than the record profits of the past two years, with the bleak outlook for demand causing increased nervousness among shareholders and investors.

The joint statement from MSC CEO Soren Toft and Maersk’s new CEO, Vincent Clerc, said the companies “recognised that much had changed” since the 10-year 2M agreement was signed in 2015.

“Discontinuing the 2M Alliance paves the way for both companies to pursue their individual strategies,” said the statement.

And in a follow-up, Mr Toft said MSC would “continue to strengthen and modernise” its fleet as the “liner industry leader, with the largest fleet, orderbook and network coverage”.

Sources close to the day-to-day management of both companies have previously told The Loadstar relationships had become “very strained” at 2M operational meetings, over capacity management as demand and then freight rates tumbled in the second half of last year.

“We have two carriers with polar opposite ambitions trying to function as an alliance,” said a contact.

Nevertheless, at the very top of their organisations, even recently, Maersk and MSC lauded the benefits of the 2M agreement and scotched rumours there were plans to terminate the alliance.

Attention will now turn to the reaction of the members of the Ocean Alliance and THE Alliance. They could see this as an opportunity to gain some market share from the uncertainty generated by the announcement, as demand remains extremely soft on the east-west tradelanes.

And it could lead to the opening-up of more inter-alliance slot charter deals, similar to Hapag-Lloyd’s recent agreement with the 2M for Asia to North Europe.

MSC said it was “grateful for the operational cooperation with Maersk over the past eight years”. It said it expected the “concept” of vessel sharing “to remain relevant”, but gave no indication it was something MSC wanted to be part of.

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