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.
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!
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.
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.
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.
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.”