The red-hot containership charter market has spawned an unusual sub-let deal between alliance rivals Yang Ming and Maersk.

Maersk is to take over the charter of the 10,114 teu Express Berlin from Yang Ming for a period of 12-14 months, paying the Taiwanese carrier an average of $126,000 a day.

But when Maersk can actually take over the charter remains to be seen, as according to AIS data, the vessel is currently awaiting a berth at Los Angeles.

The 2011-built vessel (formerly Hanjin Germany) was fixed by owner Danaos on a four-year, five-month time charter to Yang Ming in December 2017, at a daily hire rate of $27,750, according to data – thus the carrier stands to make some $41m with the sub-let deal.

Nevertheless, in cashing in on the huge spike in hire rates since it took on the charter, Yang Ming and its THE Alliance partners are, effectively, conceding market share to their 2M alliance rivals.

During Maersk’s third-quarter earnings call yesterday, CEO Soren Skou said the carrier was doing everything it could to increase its capacity to cope with the exceptionally strong demand and supply chain disruption, adding: “This includes expanding our capacity in ocean to an all-time high level.”

He said: “Frankly, anything that can sail is sailing today, and we have also increased the average speed of our vessels.”

Commenting on the transaction, Alphaliner noted that sub-lets of larger tonnage were rare, “especially when involving competing carriers from different alliances”.

The consultant said sub-let charters had become even rarer, “in the context of a boiling hot freight market, where carriers strive to secure capacity and would not, in theory, be inclined to give tonnage to competitors”.

Indeed, sub-lets are normally only used, when the charterer has lost a cargo or suspended a service, to mitigate the impact of the duration of the time charter for the vessel.

It follows that the charterer taking over the ship would normally obtain a discount on the market daily hire rate for stepping in to take much of the financial pressure off of the original charterer.

Such was the case with a series of 13,000 teu ships Maersk and MSC sub-let from HMM in 2016 during the latter’s financial restructuring and absence of full membership of an alliance.

Meanwhile, Maersk’s 2M partner, MSC, is continuing its aggressive buying spree of second-hand container tonnage, with broker S&P confirming a further four ships of 956-2,450 teu were purchased in the past few weeks, bringing the number acquired since August 2020 to 120.

Moreover, MSC is still on the hunt for any charter ship that becomes available, having just taken on the charter of the 8,814 teu Northern Jupiter for five to six months at an eye-watering $180,000 a day.

MSC is now just the equivalent of five 10,000 teu ships away from usurping Maersk as the top-ranked carrier. It also has an orderbook of some 1m teu, compared with Maersk’s 250,000 teu of newbuild orders.

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