Maersk Line will deploy the first 12 deliveries of its new Triple E container ships in its expanded Asia-Europe AE10 string, but insists the extra capacity will not impact too heavily on the supply side of the trade this year.
The first of the 20 vessels in the series, the largest in the world with more than 18,000-TEUs capacity, is due for sea trials in the coming weeks. The ship will then make its maiden port call July 14 at Busan, a short steam from Ogpo Bay on Geoje Island where the vessels are currently being constructed at Daewoo Shipbuilding and Marine Engineering’s mammoth yard.
The next 11 Triple E vessels will be gradually phased into the AE10 service, which links Busan and Kwangyang in Korea to a string of Chinese ports, Hong Kong, Tanjung Pelepas and continues on to the Baltic as far as Gdansk in Poland, a journey that takes some 35 days. “All the ports on the schedule have been cleared to receive the Triple E class,” said Thomas Lindy Sorensen, president of Maersk Korea.
The deployment of the final eight vessels in the series, which are due for delivery by the summer of 2015, has not yet been decided, Sorensen said.
Maersk’s fleet of eight E-class vessels of 15,500-TEU capacity and four smaller chartered vessels currently operating on AE10 will be cascaded to other routes in Maersk’s global network or returned to owners as they are replaced by Triple E ships from July through the second half of 2014, according to Sorensen.
Maersk managers have frequently insisted the new ships, which offer major fuel savings and will cut Maersk’s container slot costs, will not be used for a market share grab in the Asia-Europe trade where rates are tumbling.
Indeed, Maersk will not be seeking to sell the extra capacity available on the Triple E vessels because, initially at least, the extra slots will only be available on one in 12 calls at each port. On that basis, managers believe the new vessels will not add a huge amount of extra capacity into the struggling Asia-Europe trade in 2013, although they admit that will change as more of the ships are added to the AE10’s roster.
Maersk only started AE10 calls at Busan at the end of April. At the port, the fifth-biggest in the world with throughput of more than 17 million TEUs last year, the Triple E will call at DP World’s PNC Terminal located at Busan New Port.
“It was a choice between the old port at Busan or the new one, and we decided that New Port is the future and is more suitable given the size of the ships,” Sorensen said. “Then it was a process of evaluating the different terminal, requesting quotations and negotiating.
“For us, it’s a function of cost and productivity, and we were already at PNC so we decided to stay there.”
Sorensen said shippers using the AE10 from Busan and other ports will benefit from lower carbon emissions per container shipped on the Triple E because of its gamut of fuel efficiency features and will also have ample capacity available as the market grows. “The AE10 also gives shippers in Korea direct access to northern and East Europe and Russia for the first time,” he added.
With more than 17 percent of the export market and 13 percent of imports, Maersk is already the leading carrier at Busan, followed by Hanjin Shipping and Hyundai Merchant Marine, according to figures from Busan Port Authority. Sorensen said last year the carrier had seen “decent” first half growth, but exports dropped in the second half because of lower demand from Europe. “This continued into this year, but we expect the second half to be better both in absolute terms and year-over-year,” he said.
“We expect full year growth of 3 to 4 percent in total from Korea.”
Cameron Thorpe, who heads up DP World’s Busan operation, told The Journal of Commerce he was proud the company’s PNC facility had been chosen as the maiden port call for the new Triple E vessels, which he called “a milestone in the containerization industry.
“I believe that PNC was chosen to handle this first call because the terminal has already made the necessary investment in time, equipment, training and resources to be able to efficiently handle the new mega-vessels,” he said. “We are already handling a number of services in the 10,000- to 14,000-TEU range, so our staff, including the key roles of equipment operators, yard and ship planners, are familiar with large vessel operations. We see handling the Triple E as the next logical step-up.”
The terminal is fitted with 17 quay cranes of which 10 are fully capable of handling the extra width and height of the Triple E series — the ships are 23 rows across compared with the 22 rows of the E-series and containers will also be stacked higher on deck, adding to “in-air draft.”
“Our quay cranes also run on a wide rail-gauge of 42.7 meters, enabling a greater number of designated truck lanes on the quayside, reducing potential operating bottlenecks,” Thorpe said.
“Since its inception, PNC has made investments in state-of-the-art systems such as tandem-lift cranes and automated RMGs in the yard, and we are adding two more cranes along with additional auto-RMGs later this year as further enhancement of our capabilities.”
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