Data from Alphaliner show that MSC’s orderbook has increased to a staggering 1.76 million teu, which is equal to the capacity of Hapag-Lloyd, the fifth-largest ocean carrier as reported by The Loadstar.
The statistic has left some questioning the future of the 2M Alliance.
Alongside its massive newbuilding programme, MSC has been very active on the S&P market, vigorously hoovering-up some 240 second-hand ships since August 2020.
This has taken its fleet to 4.5m teu, putting around 200,000 teu of capacity daylight between it and 2M partner Maersk.
Former Maersk executive, now CEO of MSC, Soren Toft, in his assessment this week of Q3 trading and outlook, warned there would be “some difficult quarters ahead”, due to a surge in inflation, interest rates and energy prices.
He added, however, that “there were a lot of reasons to stay positive, and we are developing other solutions, not only air cargo but also on the land side, to expand our service offering further”.
Meanwhile, the 10-year 2M vessel-sharing agreement between Maersk and MSC is due to expire in 2024.
At its formation in 2014, MSC was the junior partner, now, when considering the respective orderbooks, with Maersk having just 380,000 teu of tonnage due, the roles are significantly reversed.
An insider source told The Loadstar meetings between the two operational teams were often “fractious”, with “serious disagreements” on capacity issues on a regular basis having to be overruled “at the very top level”.
Indeed, this has resulted in conflicting customer advisories on a vessel’s status and ETA.
However, last month Maersk CEO Soren Skou was very positive about continuing with MSC as an alliance partner – The Loadstar understands the 2M could be renewed on a rolling 12-month basis at the end of the 10-year period.
“The alliance has generated a lot of value for us and I’m sure it will continue to deliver value,” he told a Reuters journalist, “because combining the network gives us cost savings in being able to offer a much bigger network at lower cost, but it also gives us operational flexibility when it comes to adjusting capacity.
“Whether one [carrier] is slightly bigger than the other I don’t think really matters, compared to the value being driven by the combination of our fleets,” he added.
Nevertheless, with the Consortia Block Exemption Regulation (CBER) up for renewal in April 2024, and the EC being fiercely lobbied by shipper groups not to extend this “safe harbour for liner shipping”, carriers are having to consider the possibility that, in some jurisdictions, VSAs could be outlawed or at least forced to significantly change.
Vespucci Maritime CEO Lars Jensen hypothesises that MSC may be setting itself up to become a stand-alone global operator with its aggressive growth strategy.
“Significant fleet growth paves the way to a future when MSC achieves the scale where it can field a wide and competitive network on the major east-west tradelanes without needing to be a member of an alliance,” he said.
Essentially, the expert continued, “it regains control of its own future.”
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Source: The Loadstar