Hyundai Merchant Marine continues to be coy about its widely reported order for 12 vessels of 22,000 TEU, with CEO CK Yoo saying only that the carrier plans to order “new eco-friendly mega-ships” in the first half of 2018.
The new vessels will comply with a global emissions regulation that will be imposed from Jan. 1, 2020, something that Yoo described as a market-changing factor for the container shipping industry.
“I believe that HMM can secure competitiveness in a global market after 2020 if HMM arms itself with eco-friendly mega containerships in preparation of environmental regulations,” Yoo said in a statement.
HMM also provided more details of its new Asia-North Europe Express (AEX) service that will be launched on April 8 with 10 ships of 4,600 TEU deployed in a loop with the port rotation of Pusan, Shanghai, Ningbo, Kaohsiung, Shenzhen, Singapore, Colombo, Rotterdam, Hamburg, Southampton, Singapore, Hong Kong, and Pusan.
The AEX service is an independent service operated by HMM outside of the strategic cooperation it has with the 2M Alliance of Maersk Line and Mediterranean Shipping Co. HMM withdrew from the Asia-Europe trade amid the debt restructuring that followed the collapse of its larger compatriot Hanjin Shipping and currently offers slot charters on six Asia-North Europe loops on 2M services.
Alphaliner said HMM’s AEX was the only new string to be introduced on Asia-Europe so far this year, and it would add about 2 percent to the total Asia-North Europe capacity. Together with upgrades planned on existing strings, the average weekly capacity on the route will increase by 9.6 percent from 257,000 TEU in the second quarter of 2017 to 282,000 TEU in the second quarter of 2018.
The vessels deployed on the AEX are the smallest on the trade, but the South Korean flagship said it would offer the fastest transit time on Asia-Europe (by one or two days, at least) in a loop that was launched in response to increased demand for express services. This appears to confirm that the AEX will be sold as a premium service, adding a second guaranteed service to the one the carrier runs on the trans-Pacific.
The trans-Pacific premium service was launched in May 2017 and connects several Asian ports with the US West Coast at rates that HMM said were 10 to 20 percent higher than regular services on the trade. Since its launch, HMM said more than 10,000 TEU had been carried on the premium service by the end of January and the carrier plans to increase the annual handling volume from its current level, 20,000 TEU to 50,000 TEU “in the near future.”
HMM is not the only carrier trying to differentiate itself on the trans-Pacific. As container lines compete in a market dominated by fewer carriers sharing volume across three major alliances, they are trying to move the relationship between themselves and customers away from one that is driven purely by price.
APL launched its Guaranteed suite of products on the trade in October and last week announced that the service would be expanded from four to 29 ports across Asia with 22 Asia-North America services operated.
“We need to be more imaginative. This is what we are trying to do with our Eagle Guaranteed program,” APL CEO Nicolas Sartini told JOC.com. “The program is highly successful and we have launched a suite of Guaranteed services to deliver to shippers and create value at premium rates.”
Matson said its expedited China-to-US West Coast service moved record volume in 2017. “We continue to believe that a lot of the fundamentals that drove the model in 2017 should remain in place in 2018 … This service has been full for 10 years and we expect it to remain full this year,” said CEO Matt Cox.
The 10-day trans-Pacific service is even generating interest from air freight shippers that Cox said were seeking costs that were lower than those of air freight but delivery that was faster than standard ocean carriage.