The Implications of THE Alliance - Global Trade Magazine
  May 31st, 2016 | Written by

The Implications of THE Alliance

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  • Prediction of a three-mega-alliance industry structure comes true.
  • Increasing vessel speeds to deliver faster transit times would reverse the policy of all major carriers and alliances.
  • Alliances should not be seen as the silver bullet that will save the container shipping industry.

When four ocean carriers announced the formation of details of the OCEAN Alliance, Drewry predicted that the eight carriers without alliance plans beyond this year would move quickly to find new partners, creating a three-mega-alliance industry structure.

Three weeks later, the maritime consultancy’s prediction came true when six of the eight carriers–Hanjin Shipping, Hapag-Lloyd, K Line, MOL, NYK, and Yang Ming–announced that they would create a new partnership called THE Alliance from April 2017.

The third alliance is the 2M, comprising Maersk and Mediterranean Shipping Company (MSC).

The joint statement announcing the new combination focused on benefits to shippers, claiming they would get “frequent sailings, high reliability and very attractive transit times” as a result.

“It will be interesting to see if this is anything more than puff marketing done at short-notice,” says a new Drewry report, “as increasing vessel speeds to deliver faster transit times would reverse the near decade-long slow-steaming policy of all major carriers and alliances.”

The same statement also clarified that UASC is expected to become the seventh member. The eighth orphaned carrier, Hyundai Merchant Marine (HMM), it is understood, will be considered for membership if it can resolve its financial difficulties.

“That means that there could be as many as eight carriers in THE Alliance by the time it comes into being next April,” says Drewry, “which does rather look like a case of having too many cooks.”

One solution suggested by Drewry would be to install a single independent operational unit, although such a move could face opposition from international regulators.

Another possibility is the merger of the liner divisions of the three Japanese carriers—K Line, MOL, NYK—and/or a Hanjin-HMM combination.

“Certainly, with all three Japanese carriers behind it, THE Alliance is set to have an unrivaled network of services to and from Japan,” noted Drewry, “so that the other alliances might possibly regret having not invited one or more of the Nippon carriers into their clubs.”

Still before the carriers is taking corrective actions on capacity. The “carriers cannot wait nearly a year to start that process if they want to bring supply and demand closer together and see freight rates moving upwards,” the Drewry report says.

The carriers will hard at work restructuring services over next year. The implication for shippers is in who they contract with in the interim “to protect their supply chains and ensure integrity. During this time there is likely to be continued market volatility,” Drewry concluded.

Drewry contends that the industry transformation into a three-way mega-alliance structure is not an oligopoly that shippers should fear. “There will still be at least 12 competing carriers and sales organizations behind these operating alliances,” the report noted. “There are also other carriers from within the Top 20 that are not assigned to an alliance that shippers can call upon, although none are major players in the east-west routes.”

Some uncertainty has been removed from the market with the formation of the two new mega-alliances, according to Drewry. But, the report caveats, “alliances are only as stable as their member carriers so they should not be seen as the silver bullet that will save the industry.”

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