The fleet of idled surplus container ships hit 718,000 20-foot-equivalent units in mid-December, and lay-ups will persist for the next two years, as record deliveries of new vessels will continue to keep supply and demand out of sync, according to industry analyst Alphaliner.
The idle fleet is expected to rise until the end of March as the current excess supply is aggravated by accelerating ship deliveries through the first half of 2014.
Demand is expected to pick up in April as several East-West services withdrawn during the slack winter season are reinstated, but it will not be sufficient to absorb all of the surplus capacity, Alphaliner forecast.
The idle fleet averaged 595,000 TEUs in 2013, down from 651,000 TEUs in 2012, mainly due to the record number of vessels scrapped this year.
The lay-up of surplus box ships since the fourth quarter of 2008 has been the most severe and prolonged in the industry’s history and is now entering its fifth year.
Prior to 2008, there had not been any period when the idle fleet exceeded 200,000 TEUs, and idle periods had not persisted for over a year, Alphaliner noted.
Over the past 12 months new ship orders have reached 1.78 million TEUs, representing 21.7 percent of the existing fleet, up from a 10-year low of 19.4 percent in July.
The surge in orders will keep shipyards busy into 2015, with 1.6 million TEUs slated for delivery in 2014 followed by 1.76 million TEUs in 2015.
Barring significant deferrals and cancellations of orders, the new capacity due for delivery in the next two years will break the previous record of 1.58 million TEUs set in 2008.