CHINESE WHISPERS AND STRANGE HAPPENINGS

CHINESE WHISPERS AND STRANGE HAPPENINGS

Some strange goings-on are transpiring on the Pacific, and on one of China Ocean Shipping Co.'s services in particular.

An Evergreen ship suddenly took up position in the China Southeast service linking China, Japan and the U.S. West Coast ports of Long Beach and Oakland.It arrived on the service courtesy, I am told, of a charter deal by Cosco. Well, that's what Evergreen says. Cosco simply doesn't want to comment.

After arriving in Kaohsiung early this month, the 2,734-TEU Ever Guide was shifted from Evergreen's Hong Kong, Taiwan, U.S. West Coast service into the Cosco CES service. The ship apparently sailed from Xiamen in China on Dec. 10, as one of the six ships deployed in that service.

Now this is strange stuff, because if it is not the start of something big between Evergreen and Cosco, I personally will go live and apologize to my readers, and concede, ''I got it wrong this time round.''

But I am not sending my best suit to the dry cleaners and getting spruced up for the occasion, because I don't think it will be necessary.

Ask yourself: When did Cosco ever need to charter a container ship from Evergreen? Ask yourself: When did Evergreen ever need to charter one of its ships out? Ask yourself: If you were Cosco, would you go along to someone you hadn't spoken to for more than 40 years and ask to borrow a ship?

And apart from that, I also understand that this vessel will not be the first to come out of the Evergreen fleet to join to the Cosco ranks.

No, this one is for real. Sure, it could be disguised as a charter, but there is something going on between the two lines.

Personally, I am convinced the latest move is likely to form the backbone of further agreements between the two companies that could eventually lead to a global alliance linking the largest shipping companies in Asia.

The Ever Guide joins its Cosco counterparts on a service that Cosco operates between China, Japan and the U.S. West Coast ports of Long Beach and Oakland, and is known as the China Southeast CES service.

The service was a recent product of a restructuring of Cosco's existing services on the Pacific. That saw the formation of the NEA service and its eventual split into the CES and its northern counterpart, China Northeast CEN service.

Starting this week from Xiamen in China, Ever Guide will sail for Ningbo and Shanghai before proceeding to Kobe and Nagoya in Japan, and on across the Pacific to the U.S. West Coast.

The 2,700-TEU Ever Guide has replaced one of the Cosco vessels on this service, the 3,500-TEU Yu Ge He. The service deployment on the new CES service will be five Cosco vessels, each of around 2,700-TEU capacity, and named Tai He, Min He, Gao He, Pu He and Dong He.

In addition to all this, Evergreen has plans to provide a pendulum service linking the U.S. West Coast, Asia and northern Europe. It would deploy vessels in the 5,000- to 6,000-TEU range.

The company also hinted at the possibility of deploying the same vessels on the new CEM service between China, southeast Asia, the Mediterranean and Europe, which is at present predominantly a Lloyd Triestino service.

A shipbuilding program by Cosco has perfect opportunities to fit into this service within a vessel-sharing agreement, when delivery of the new ships starts in 2001.

Some weeks back, Evergreen Chairman Chang Yung-fa confirmed to a London press gathering that there were Evergreen-Cosco joint initiatives taking place that would concern the U.S. trade lanes. I firmly believe we are seeing the start of something very big.

Don't forget, earlier this year Evergreen and Cosco started a new vessel-sharing agreement between Asia, South Africa and South America that is predominantly Evergreen-tonnaged.

In early autumn, Evergreen affiliate Uniglory and Cosco revealed plans to start a new service between Asia, the Indian sub-continent and the Middle East. That service is mainly Cosco-tonnaged, with Uniglory using chartered ships.

The combination of Evergreen and Cosco through anything approaching a global alliance would give the market one of the biggest capacity providers in the industry.

By mid-2001, the Evergreen fleet will stand at 138 vessels totaling some 360,000 TEUs. Cosco's shipbuilding program stands at up to 10 new 5,500-TEU vessels, two of which will be built in China.

Me? I believe what I believe. I don't always listen to those who tell me stories. The suit's still in the wardrobe, and it won't be getting an airing for awhile, of that I am certain.

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