Backed into a corner by the changing dynamics of container shipping, a handful of the world's top liner carriers finally made their move in the last 12 months. That is to say, they entered into the mega-vessel market, ordering ships of massive scale and equally massive cost, according to American Shipper's Top 20 Container Lines report. Fresh off industry-wide, record-breaking profits in 2010, these mid-sized lines have come out swinging.
Since American Shipper's last Top 20 report (September 2010), no fewer than five carriers who previously refrained from ordering vessels of 13,000 TEUs or larger have done so.
The significance of who was doing the ordering should not be lost on anyone. APL, Hapag-Lloyd, Hanjin Shipping, Hyundai Merchant Marine and OOCL, which have in recent times stayed on the conservative side when it comes to ship ordering, have joined the big-ship fray. They join the big three in Europe - Maersk Line, Mediterranean Shipping Co. and CMA CGM - Chinese lines COSCO Container Lines and China Shipping, along with Zim and United Arab Shipping Co., as lines that either operate or have on order vessels of such size.
The raft of big-ship orders in recent months raises some questions. Were the orders proactive or reactive? Will they truly help these lines compete with Europe's big three in terms of per-slot operating costs?
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