There’s no question 2009 was the worst year for ocean carriers since the start of containerization. Yet despite the extreme, unprecedented losses, all lines by and large survived
Several fundamental changes have occurred since the end of 2008 — coincidentally the same time the European Union withdrew the conference exemption, ending the conference system on European trades. This occurred just as cargo volumes were suffering their most severe drop in history. Utilization levels and rates plummeted across all trade lanes, with pricing in the trans-Pacific and Asia-Europe markets falling by more than 50 percent.
Carriers were forced to right-size fleets to deal with cargo expectations — a response that was different from previous downturns, when lines considered market share as the key driver. Now the emphasis is on profitability and ensuring business pays its way.
Whether because of the uncertainty, or as a result of it, more shipping data is available than perhaps at any time. The key question is whether this data allows carriers and shippers to better manage their businesses, and perhaps move into longer-term, less volatile, more stable relationships.
With the life expectancy of ships now exceeding 30 years, there must be a compelling argument for carriers and shippers to agree to a service/rate package that is longer than 30 days.