Maersk Line has deployed the first of its new-generation Triple-E ships, the 20,568 TEU Madrid Maersk, in its Asia-Europe service network, the first of 27 vessels the line ordered in 2015 – including 24 with nominal capacity of more than 15,000 TEU.
The Madrid Maersk, which on 27 April called at China’s Port of Tianjin as the first port on its maiden voyage, is the first in a series of eleven 11 second-generation Triple-E vessels among that order for 27 vessels Maersk Line placed in 2015.
Maersk Line will take delivery of the vessels by the end of 2018, replacing older and less efficient tonnage. Its remaining order book consists of 10 second-generation Triple-E vessels, nine 15,226 TEU and seven 3,596 TEU container vessels.
The world’s largest container line stressed that it has not taken delivery of own new-buildings since July 2015. The order book corresponds to 11% of Maersk Line’s current fleet – “a relatively small order book when compared to the industry’s order book of around 15%”, the line said.
“To stay competitive and achieve lowest cost, Maersk Line will continue to manage fleet capacity tightly,” the company emphasised. “For example, Maersk Line has a relatively high number of vessels on short-term charters. This gives Maersk Line the flexibility to adjust fleet capacity when new vessels come on-stream.”
Maersk Line is also recycling old and more inefficient vessels, including recycling seven Panamax vessels first quarter of 2017.
Outlining the line’s fleet strategy Maersk Line COO Søren Toft commented: “Our strategy is to grow in line with our main competitors and we do that through a combination of buying new and used ships, and chartering vessels. These new vessels help modernize our fleet, significantly improve our operational efficiency and will help us achieve our growth ambitions, regardless of short-term economic cycles.”
Reflecting the need for the new capacity is Maersk Line’s head haul utilisation rate, which hit an average of 93% in 2016, leaving little room for growth without additional capacity, the line said. And while overcapacity remains a problem for the container shipping industry, the 27 new vessels coming into Maersk Line’s fleet are equal to just 11% of Maersk Line’s current fleet, compared to an industry average of 15%, Toft underlined.
“If you look at our current order book and also the capacity we are able to return to charter owners, which is roughly 20%, we are in a pretty good position,” said Toft. “We are expecting to grow this year, and expecting global growth of about 3%, but if those things don’t happen we also have a powerful ability to adjust our network to changing conditions in a way that many other shipping lines do not have.”
This is what Maersk Line calls “active capacity management” and it includes other tools like recycling old ships and idling unneeded ones among others, to help it more accurately match supply with demand in its network. The decision to delay the second order of the 15,226 TEU H-Class ships by six months is also an example.
The company said the new vessels continue the tradition within Maersk of improving efficiency. “All of the new vessel types are designed and optimised for how the vessels are expected to operate, including which speeds will be sailed and what cargo will be loaded; however, the primary efficiency improvements in all of the new vessels are due to increases in container carrying capacity, which lowers energy usage and costs per container carried,” the line explained.
“For example, the second-generation Triple-E’s nominal capacity is 20,658 20-ft containers (TEU), nearly 2,000 more than the prior generation. However, it manages this within a vessel body with nearly identical length, width and height. As a result, the second-generation is around 7% more efficient per container carried than the Triple-E.”
Maersk said the new H-Class vessels have a nominal capacity of 15,226 TEU and are able to carry nearly the same number of containers as the original design of the Emma class, but do so in a body that is 46 metres shorter. “It is an important characteristic of a ship that was designed for operational versatility in order to take advantage of shifting trade patterns. The greater capacity allows it to efficiently serve on the East-West trades, while its smaller size means it is also capable of calling what are typically smaller ports on the North-South trades, if needed,” the line said.
Finally, the seven ice-class Baltic feeder vessels were designed both to meet the specific emission regulations of the region and the rising volume growth in this trade in recent years. The 3,596 TEU nominal capacity of the vessels more than doubles the current size of the line’s current ice-class Baltic feeder vessels (1,400 -1,700 TEU). And since the vessels will use marine diesel fuel, they will be fully compliant with the Emission Control Area (ECA) rules established by the International Maritime Organisation (IMO), Maersk noted.
“Global growth may pick up this year or not, but these are factors we can’t control,” says Toft. “What we can control is our position as the market leader and cost leader and we strengthen both of those with these new vessels, while continuing to actively manage and optimise our network, improve our utilization, and drive down our costs.”