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A Tough Year on the Water Hasn’t Dampened Innovation for these Ocean Carriers

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A Tough Year on the Water Hasn’t Dampened Innovation for these Ocean Carriers

To say that 2019 has been challenging for ocean carriers would be an understatement. The year began with the National Retail Federation forecasting a decline in year-over-year growth, echoing World Bank chatter of a slowing global economy.

And don’t forget the tariff wars between the U.S. and China (heck, the U.S. and just about anyone). Managing capacity on ships has also been an issue, and then there is the potential biggest bogeyman of all: the International Maritime Organization’s low-sulfur fuel mandate taking effect Jan. 1, 2020.

Sure, we could dwell on the gloom and doom, but that would not be very Global Trade magazine of us, now would it? We here in our silky ivory tower like to spotlight the positive, which we reveal with these ocean shippers we love.

MSC

Mediterranean Shipping Co. this year watched the world’s largest container ship, the MSC Gülsün, complete its maiden voyage from northern China to Europe. With a width of 197 feet and a length of 1,312 feet (!), the Gülsün was built by Samsung Heavy Industries at the Geoje shipyard in South Korea. It can carry up to 23,756 TEUs shipping containers on one haul. That capacity can include 2,000 refrigerated containers for shipping food, beverages, pharmaceuticals or any other chilled and frozen cargoes. That’s a lot of snow cones!

MOL

Mitsui O.S.K. Lines sees MSC Gülsün and raises you the MOL Triumph, which achieved a new world load record this year. Departing Singapore for Northern Europe on THE Alliance’s FE2 service with a cargo of 19,190 TEU. That surpassed the previous load record achieved in August 2018, when Mumbai Maersk sailed from Tanjung Pelepas to Rotterdam with 19,038 TEU onboard. Yes, you are correct, that’s a pretty slim margin of victory, and analysts suspect the MOL Triumph record won’t last long given the 23,000 TEU ships being introduced.

HYUNDAI MERCHANT MARINE 

Speaking of THE Alliance, current members Hapag-Lloyd, ONE and Yang Ming will be joined in April 2020 by Hyundai Merchant Marine (HMM). The South Korean carrier recently signed an agreement to join THE Alliance and then passed the pen to the founding members, who extended the duration of their collaboration until 2030. “HMM is a great fit for THE Alliance as it will provide a number of new and modern vessels, which will help us to deliver better quality and be more efficient,” said Rolf Habben Jansen, Hapag-Lloyd’s chief executive. 

HAPAG-LLOYD

Oh, speaking of the fifth-largest container shipping company in the world, Hapag-Lloyd is piloting an online insurance product as part of a digital offering to try to overcome the widespread practice of shippers relying on the limited cover provided under the terms of carriers’ bills of lading. While Hapag-Lloyd says it takes the utmost care in transporting cargo, company officials acknowledge things can and have gone wrong. Thus, the introduction of Quick Cargo Insurance, which is underwritten by industrial insurer Chubb in Germany and is limited to containerized exports from that country, France and the Netherlands. However, the carrier says it plans to expand the offer.  

MAERSK

To navigate new environmental regulations, A.P. Moller-Maersk A/S is considering going old school. We mean really old school by using a modern version of the old-fashioned sail to help power its ships. Currently being tested on one of Maersk’s giant tankers, the sails look less like the flapping silk you know from Johnny Depp movies and Jerry Seinfeld’s puffy shirt and more like huge marble columns. But they are nothing to laugh at as two 10-story-tall cylinders can harness enough wind to replace 20 percent of the ship’s fossil fuels, according to their maker, Norsepower Oy Ltd. 

MOL, THE SEQUEL

While we’re getting all green up in here, it’s worth also pointing out that Mitsui O.S.K. Lines Ltd. This year joined three other Japanese companies— Asahi Tanker Co., Exeno Yamamizu Corp., and Mitsubishi Corp.—in teaming up to build the world’s first zero-emission tanker by mid-2021. Their joint venture e5 Lab Inc. will power the vessel with large-capacity batteries and operate in Tokyo Bay, according to a statement the foursome released on Aug. 6. Thanks to the onslaught of legislation to improve environmental performance, other companies are also looking to battery power. Norway’s Kongsberg Gruppen is developing an electric container vessel, and Rolls-Royce Holdings last year that started offering battery-powered ship engines.

AMAZON

No, this is not a leftover strand from a different story in this magazine about moving packages on the ground. “Quietly and below the radar,” USA Today recently reported, “Amazon has been ramping up its ocean shipping service, sending close to 4.7 million cartons of consumers goods from China to the United States over the past year, records show.” While other ocean carrier leaders prepare for the bald head of Jeff Bezos, his move really should be no surprise given Amazon’s attempt to control as much of its transportation network as possible. (See my September-October issue story “Air War: Fast, Free Shipping has UPS, FedEx and Amazon Scrambling in the Air”). Of Amazon now floating into the sea, Steve Ferreira, CEO of Ocean Audit, a company that utilizes data and machine learning to find ocean freight refunds for the Fortune 500, told USA Today: “This makes them the only e-commerce company that is able to do the whole transaction from end-to-end. Amazon now has a closed ecosystem.” 

TESLA’S CEO DISRUPTS LOGISTICS TRANSPORTATION

For proof that Elon Musk is an innovator when it comes to logistic transportation—as opposed to, in this exercise, space travel, electric cars, solar power, hyperloops, artificial intelligence, neurotechnology, tunnel boring and flame throwers—we turn not to his associated company (Tesla) but a competitor (Volvo).

“Tesla shook up the whole industry and made it go a little bit faster,” conceded Volvo Trucks North America President Peter Voorhoeve late last year of the race to get electric big rigs on the road.

He is referring to Musk’s January 2018 announcement from a stage displaying a Tesla Semi that shortly thereafter delivered battery packs from his Gigafactory 1 in Sparks, Nevada, to Tesla Factory in Fremont, California,

After that maiden 239-mile cargo trip, Tesla Semi prototypes were spotted sporadically last year, although it was unknown whether there was anything inside the trailers they were hauling. The suspense ended this past January, when Jerome Guillen, Tesla’s president of Automotive and vice president of Truck programs, shared on LinkedIn a photo of a Model X sedan being loaded on a car carrier trailer attached to a Tesla Semi.

The Tesla Semi is promised to deliver a far better experience for truck drivers, while increasing safety and significantly reducing the cost of cargo transport. Without a trailer, it is said to achieve 0-60 mph in five seconds, compared to 15 seconds in a comparable diesel truck. It does 0-60 mph in 20 seconds with a full 80,000-pound load, a task that takes a diesel truck about a minute. Most notably for truck drivers and other travelers on the road, it climbs 5 percent grades at a steady 65 mph, whereas a diesel truck maxes out at 45 mph on a 5 percent grade.

Semis require no shifting or clutching for smooth acceleration and deceleration, and its regenerative braking recovers 98 percent of kinetic energy to the battery, giving it a basically infinite brake life. Overall, the Tesla Semi promises more responsiveness, covering more miles than a diesel truck in the same amount of time, while more safely integrates with passenger car traffic.

Reservations of $20,000 per Tesla Semi are being taken, with production slated to begin this year. But other car makers are not taking those prospects lying down. Volvo Trucks on Dec. 12 announced it will introduce all-electric Volvo VNR regional-haul demonstrators in California later this year, operating in distribution, regional-haul and drayage operations, with sales of the VNR Electric in North America scheduled to begin in 2020.

“The Volvo VNR Electric leverages the versatility of the new Volvo VNR series with a proven fully-electric powertrain, and represents a strategic stride toward a comprehensive electrified transport ecosystem,” Voorhoeve said at the time. “Cities prioritizing sustainable urban development can leverage electrified transport solutions to help improve air quality and reduce traffic noise. Cleaner, quieter, fully-electric commercial transport also creates opportunities for expanded morning and late-night operations, helping cut traffic congestion during peak hours.”

Mack Trucks, Peterbilt, Freightliner and Navistar are also in various stages of testing with electric trucks, and Ryder recently ordered 1,000 battery-electric Chanje panel vans to be put in service in the next two years. UPS and Thor Trucks as well as Canadian food retailer Loblaw and Build Your Dreams (BYD) are teaming up on electrics. Phoenix, Arizona, hybrid designer Nikola has pre-orders for hydrogen-electric trucks, and Kenworth and Toyota are developing a Zero Emissions Cargo Transport fuel cell truck prototype.

If Elon Musk’s bold EV semi moves represent the stick, California Air Resources Board grants are the carrot. Most manufacturers are focusing their efforts in and around the Golden State, leveraging the grants that fold into the Port of Los Angeles’ goal to ban anything but emission-free trucks by 2035.