The MSC Fleet has grown 10%-12% since the beginning of the year and has 12 more ships coming in 2009, between 11,000 teu-14,000 teu.
Mediterranean Shipping Company may have expanded its fleet through the downturn, but Gianluigi Aponte insists he has no designs on the number one spot, nor does he view the market"s troubles as a buying opportunity.
Interviewed in Barcelona, where he was hosting the naming ceremony for his latest cruiseship, MSC Splendida, Mr Aponte described the growth of the group"s box fleet as a necessary response to an extraordinary crisis.
?The MSC Fleet has grown 10%-12% since the beginning of the year. We have no vessels in lay-up, though we would have if we hadn"t also scrapped 20-25 ships so far this year,? Mr Aponte said.
?We ordered four to five years ago, when nobody could have expected an economic crisis of this magnitude. In 2009, we have 12 more ships coming, between 11,000 teu-14,000 teu.?
MSC, the world"s number two container line, has also been chartering in ships.
?We realised that one of the ways to come through the crisis was to reduce the cost of fuel, and to do that we added a lot of ships to our strings. Strings that had eight or nine vessels have gone to 11 and even 12 in certain cases,? Mr Aponte said.
?We have had a big increase in the number of ships without adding strings, in order to save on bunkers.?
He added that the strategy had worked. MSC was saving $100,000 per month, a figure that could rise to as much $150,000 per month.
MSC will continue to reshape its fleet this year. Mr Aponte said the company would scrap 20 more ships before the year is out, most of them in the 1,500 teu-2,000 teu range. He did not rule out laying up additional vessels. ?We have plans to reduce capacity if the volumes are not there and the freight rates are not there. You have to be ready to adjust the size of the fleet to the volumes out there.?
In the wider market, scrapping would continue after the 300,000 teu-350,000 teu taken out this year, and lay-ups would grow dramatically over the next year, he said. ?It is a consequence of the larger vessels joining the fleet, which are forcing operators to restructure lines. It is having a cascade effect on the vessels below, to the extent that ships of 5,000 teu-6,000 teu are becoming uncommercial.?
He described such vessels as ?hybrids?, too small to be employed on lines suffering very low freight rates and too large to be feeders.
He added that 1,000 teu vessels would be the right size for feeder work. ?From 1,000 teu to 5,000 teu can be a problem.?
But for all the pressure weighing heavily on the container market, Mr Aponte remains optimistic. ?There have been sporadic signs of growth in the global economy and it is the same in shipping, where there has been a revival in the number of containers moved and in some freight rates,? he said.
?A general rate increase of $300 per box has gone through between Asia and Europe, although the initial push was for up to $500, and an India-Europe increase went through in full.
?The Far East to the west coast of the US is also very strong. There has been no rate increase but we expect one in August of $300-500 per feu or $150-250 per teu.
He insisted that the company"s ranking meant little to him. ?I wouldn"t mind being third, fourth or fifth if we are profitable and working well.? Nor does he see the crisis as an opportunity to snap up distressed assets. ?We don"t need any assets on top of what we have,? he said.
As for the prospects for the market"s major players as the downturn continues, he said they would live to tell the tale. ?These are all tough guys.?