It's just over a year since the announcement that the A.P. Moller Group had made the much-expected decision to acquire the international shipping business of Sea-Land Service Inc. It was one of those, ''Do you remember where you were when it happened'' scenarios, and personally I do. I was seated on a fishing boat in the middle of the English Channel trying to catch the elusive ''big one.''
Armed with a fishing rod and a laptop, I somehow managed to spill the story to the world, and whether it was before or after the rest of the journalistic field, it mattered little. The inevitable had happened.
As we all know, it took until December before the letters of intents and the sensitive due diligence procedures were concluded. But it seems more than appropriate now to conduct a first anniversary analysis of just what has happened in the interim. It's true to say that in the run up to that July day, speculations had run high that something was about to break. And if that speculation was true, then many so-called industry onlookers and analysts had voiced concern about a huge organization that had the might to crush much of the global market with sheer might and power.
Rest assured, all you skeptics, that did not happen, and it is unlikely to in the future. The Maersk Sealand shipping empire has not marched with jackboots down the streets of Brussels, Washington and every other authoritative environment in the container shipping world. Neither has it used its clout to build cheap ships in cheap shipyards, where others are now queuing to get slots three years down the line. Everything has been undertaken in an orderly fashion.
On the shipping side, where arguably the biggest changes have taken place on the Atlantic, there has been an understanding that perhaps the 16 knot Econships do not provide the best competitive edge on the Atlantic. This is resulting in a phasing-in process of the ex-United States Lines workhorses on the Mediterranean-U.S. Gulf service, even though Maersk Sealand is retaining its South Atlantic loop with six or more Econships.
In Asia, it's been pretty quiet in Maersk Sealand's intra-Asian trade, that is, until this week. Word is now out that the company, independent of the rest of the field, has started a Japan-China-Southeast Asia service with four 1,000 to 1,450-TEU ships.
For Maersk Sealand, China is no land of the unknown. Through business ventures in the hinterland, the company, led by a Maersk initiative, has a network of offices imbued with sales, agency, cargo documentation, logistics and distribution responsibilities, setting it apart from many of the Orient stalwarts.
But new intra-Asian services, run by overseas lines with calls in China, are rare breeds, even in these days of open-door markets. Maersk Sealand's new service kicked off last week with calls in Yokohama, Kobe, Osaka, Shanghai, Ningbo, Singapore, Jakarta, Tanjung Pelepas, and Hong Kong.
Down Under, there has been an even clearer indication of trade volatility. Until early this year, Sea-Land had its own Asia-Australia service. When Maersk Sealand became a real name, the problems of imbalance in trade and rate fluctuations, together with overcapacity, were addressed. The result: an alliance between Maersk Sealand and Mediterranean Shipping Co. In all, a positive move to address the problems, not make more of them.
On the hardware side, there've been questions about whether a five ship charter contract inked between Sea-Land and Greek shipowner Costamare would actually go ahead. Maersk's inheritance of what could have been an embarrassing load of extra capacity on top of its megaship orders begged answers that would evolve only in time.
Fact is, the 6,200-TEU container ships, ordered by Costamare at Hyundai Heavy Industries for around $300 million in total, and firmed up only on a charter contract to Sea-Land, are being taken on by Maersk Sealand. Sea-Land New York, Sea-Land Virginia and Sea-Land Washington are all being deployed on the Asia-Europe AE1 service, displacing ships of around 4,000 TEUs. On the port scene, the big revelations of recent days is speculation Maersk Sealand could be dumping Singapore in favor of Malaysia's new bright star, Tanjung Pelepas.
The Maersk Sealand port scene is obviously focused. New York, Bremerhaven, Algeciras and of late, Salalah in the Oman, are clear indications of the company philosophy, ''Give us the port, we'll give you the ships and cargo.''
So it all looks well-maintained, thus far. And personally, my opinion is it will continue this way. There's no reason why it should not.
It's just good to keep track of the developments. I mean when did you last hear of a shipping line, in the space of a year or so, having the potential of snaffling up so much port and terminal land space?