Ocean carriers are returning laid-up container ships to service at a faster pace to keep up with growing cargo volume, according to a new report by the Alphaliner consultancy.
Carriers will have 40 additional vessels of over 3,500 20-foot equivalent units capacity by the end of April, Alphaliner said, including 15 drawn from the pool of ships that have been idled since the beginning of the global downturn. The remainder will consist of shipyard deliveries and vessels being freed up by their current charterers.
Demand is increasing with the introduction of new services, capacity upgrades on a few "loops" and additional extra slow steaming, according to Alphaliner, the Paris-based consultancy.
"Carriers are gearing up for the summer shipping season with optimism nurtured by a revived demand in most main trade lanes," according to Alphaliner.
Charter ships of 4,000-5,000 TEUs are becoming harder to find after a wave of chartering in the past few weeks.
Several carrier-controlled vessels of 4,000-7,000 TEUs are laid up but some could be re-activated at short notice if cargo demand warrants their return to service.
The carrier-operated idled fleet has dropped from just over one million TEUs to 630,000 TEUs over the past twelve months, and the figure could fall below 350,000 TEUs in the coming two months as lines re-active unemployed vessels.
Carriers have shrunk their idled fleet by returning surplus tonnage when charters expire, and selling or scrapping older ships.
The total idle fleet, including charter vessels, stood at 1.24 million TEUs on March 1, the lowest level since July 2009, Alphaliner said.
The unemployed fleet could fall below one million TEUs within the next two months as new services and additional demand created by extra slow steaming continue to absorb surplus tonnage and some older 2,500-4,000 TEUs vessels are scrapped.
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