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Lines return vessels to the owners

Lines return vessels to the owners
Unemployed containership tonnage is poised to soar in the coming months as lines return surplus chartered vessels to their owners.

Unemployed containership tonnage is poised to soar in the coming months as lines return surplus chartered vessels to their owners.

Unemployed containership tonnage is poised to soar in the coming months as lines return surplus chartered vessels to their owners.

Industry experts predict that the current amount of idle capacity could soon be dwarfed by a new wave of ships that operators will offhire this year as they continue to downsize their fleets.

Around 1.4m teu or 11% of containership capacity is currently thought to be inactive, but London broker Howe Robinson said that amount could easily double if demand remains at today"s depressed levels.

Until now, most attention has been focused on the orderbook and how that will affect the supply and demand equation, but analysts are starting to take a closer look at the number of charters that will expire soon.

One estimate puts the 2009 figure at more than 1,500 ships with combined capacity of 2.7m teu, according to Neptune Orient Lines chief executive Ron Widdows.

While some of those ships will be re-hired at bargain-basement rates, others will be left to anchor with no hope of finding employment.

?Ships are parked everywhere,? Mr Widdows said last week.

?That is becoming a larger problem for shipowners as they will be getting a lot of ships back.?

These vessels coming available in the charter market will be in addition to the large number of newbuildings to be delivered in 2009 and 2010, ?so the amount idle in the relatively near future is going to be a very sizeable number, and that will be with us for some time?, Mr Widdows told Containerisation International"s Global Liner Shipping conference.

The over-supply crisis could be relieved by some order cancellations, with Chinese yards starting to accept a few contract annulments as Zim found last week, but the big Korean shipbuilders are still standing firm.

Every owner and operator seek delivery delays

Brokers say that just about every owner and operator in the world with ships on order is seeking either delivery delays, rescheduled payment terms, price cuts, or cancellations.

No Korean yards have yet agreed to cancel any orders, Lloyd"s List understands, but a few other compromises are beginning to emerge.

?Some smaller Korean yards are starting to play ball,? one source said.

?There have been some very, very small concessions,? with a few owners managing to secure completion deferments of between three and 18 months. Production delays are thought to include some 13,000 teu ships, but yards are loathe to reveal too much for fear of having to then agree to every request.

Cancellations are still very likely if, as many suspect, not all the published orders have finance in place, or if banks refuse to meet pre-delivery loan commitments because of falling asset values.

But even if some orders fail, and demolition activity increases, the world"s containership fleet is still expected to grow briskly at a time when demand is shrinking.

Howe Robinson research and consultancy director Paul Dowell told the CI conference that supply is provisionally forecast to grow by 1.7m teu this year based on scheduled deliveries, but that could be trimmed to 1.3m teu or 10.5% after allowing for probable cancellations and scrapping. For 2010, actual fleet growth is likely to be around 7% as the orderbook is cut and demolition picks up.

At the same time, Howe Robinson expects the Asia-Europe trades to show zero growth in 2009, with the eastbound transpacific trade likely to shrink by 8.1%.

While refusing to attribute blame for the crisis to any particular group, Mr Dowell nevertheless said yards had added to the problem by telling containership owners at the height of the ordering boom that newbuilding berths were rapidly being filled with bulk carrier and tanker orders.

He also warned shippers that the standstill in contracting could eventually force freight rates much higher in the years ahead because of a prolonged period of under-investment after the ordering bonanza that peaked in 2007.

Some owners are saying that South Korean yards must accept some responsibility for the massive over-supply and should now take action to stretch out the orderbook.

?Otherwise, the glut will wipe out many of their clients, owners and liner operators,? one industry leader warned South Korean shipbuilders last week.


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