Tuesday 13th Nov, 2018

SPECIAL REPORT: Liner Trades to SE Asia

MSC Sao Paulo. Photo: Dale Crisp
MSC Sao Paulo. Photo: Dale Crisp

HANJIN’s collapse in August 2016 – with the company finally declared bankrupt by South Korean courts last week – proved uncomfortable for the ASAL group, although remaining members moved quickly to minimise disruption.

Then at the end of November came the surprise announcement NEAX founder Mitsui-OSK was to leave that consortium in the North & East Asia trade and instead throw its lot in with Maersk Line’s Boomerang service from May this year, a move with wider implications as it also meant the Japanese carrier’s departure from the Triple A group. The market is still working through the ramifications with details still to officially emerge of replacement arrangements at time of writing, although Lloyd’s List Australia can reveal the likely scenario, below.

Meanwhile, there have been changes in some of the SEA-via-East Coast Australia-NZ services and group compositions, as carriers look for the best partner fit, in part in response to alliance re-arrangements in global east-west trades.


ASAL was enjoying a steady year until Hanjin fell over in dramatic fashion on August 30. The 3500 teu Hanjin California was held at sea off the NSW coast for several days pending the arrangement of suitable guarantees before berthing at Hutchison Ports Australia’s Sydney International Container Terminal at Port Botany on September 2; on September 5 while still at berth it was arrested by Glencore Singapore Pte Ltd over unpaid bunkers to the value of US$430,000 and on September 7 moved to a lay-by berth at Glebe Island, Sydney Harbour. The following day it was arrested for a second time by marine oils supplier Chemoil, and caveats were applied by DP World and Torres Pilots. Hanjin California was finally released from arrest by the Federal Court of Australia on October 4 and sailed for Singapore the following day.

Meanwhile ASAL members China Shipping/Cosco, Hapag-Lloyd, OOCL and UASC speedily chartered a replacement vessel, the jointly-operated 4253 teu Seaspan Lumaco, which took Hanjin California’s next scheduled southbound sailing and has remained in the service since. It is about to be replaced by another joint vessel, the 4526 teu OOCL Busan. While the Hapag-Lloyd contribution remains the 4591 teu HS Shackleton and OOCL’s the 4526 teu OOCL Le Havre, the now-labelled Cosco Shipping has replaced Xin Quan Zhou with the 4254 teu JPO Virgo, and the former UASC Jeddah has been renamed CPO Jacksonville, but remains in ASAL service on UASC charter.


As foreshadowed last year NYK left AAX in April 2016, leading to the departure of the 5466 teu Wide India and its replacement by the ANL/CMA CGM-supplied 5668 teu Xin Da Lian, the sister of which, Xin Lian Yun Gang, had joined AAX almost simultaneously in place of the 6572 teu CMA CGM Lamartine. Vessel swaps have characterised this service over the past 12 months, with the 5770 teu CMA CGM Chopin and CMA CGM Wagner replaced in September and November respectively by the 5060 teu ANL Woomera and the 4922 teu Mongoose Hunter. The APL-chartered 6039 teu Los Angeles Trader was replaced by the 5514 teu APL England in February 2016 and that has remained in the service, joined in December by sistership APL Scotland, which replaced the one-trip Mongoose Hunter. In September Xian Lian Yun Gang was replaced by ANL Woomera’s sister, ANL Werribee and in December Xian Da Lian was replaced by the 5060 teu ANL Wantirna. But after only two round voyages this ship has been redeployed elsewhere and the 5089 teu CMA CGM Alcazar takes over.

While all this was happening CMA CGM was busy buying APL – a deal now completed – so that AAX is an all-CMA CGM Group affair. ANL Woomera, ANL Werribee and CMA CGM Alcazar are ANL-supplied, while APL England comes from APL and APL Scotland is a 75% ANL/25% APL vessel. APL retains its own brand identity.

Triple A

“No-one embodies stability like Triple A, whose service structure and fleet capacity has seemed set in concrete for many years,” noted last year’s report, but the imminent departure of MOL to Boomerang will precipitate a major shake-up from May. The perennially-rumoured consolidation of two strings into one will finally happen: remaining full members OOCL and PIL have opted not to seek additional participants and indeed part-member Yang Ming Line will revert to slot-charterer status.

In May last year, Triple A added direct calls at Thailand’s Laem Chabang to the Torres Loop and it is understood these will remain under the new format – but Brisbane will be dropped, as the expected 6 x c.5500-5700 teu ships to be deployed will be too deep for the Torres Strait passage. Brisbane cargoes are likely to be shifted to the NZS service. Probable port rotation will be Singapore, Fremantle, Sydney, Melbourne, Adelaide, Fremantle, Singapore, Port Klang, Laem Chabang, Singapore, although this is yet to be confirmed.

For now the two-string operation continues, with the Torres Loop employing five ships – the 5087 teu MOL Emerald, the 4536 teu YM Keelung, OOCL Houston and OOCL Panama, and the 4253 teu Kota Layar – and the Bight Loop four: 5087 teu MOL Emissary, the 4526 teu OOCL Brisbane and OOCL Norfolk, and  the 4253 teu Kota Lambai. The latter suffered engine problems in early September and was replaced for one voyage by the 5470 teu Balbina


This service continues with the 1700 teu Margaret River Bridge and Swan River Bridge introduced in 2010.


December is the month ‘things happen’ for this service and one year after KIX ceased to be a standalone operation, with ANL joining in place of the departing MOL, another membership shuffle occurred.

It will be recalled that in December 2015 KIX vessel provider Cosco reverted to slot-chartering, with Maersk’s Northern Star/Southern Star, but with no access to their Australian port calls. MOL, having ceased to be a full NZS member, also struck a slot charter arrangement with Maersk.

In December 2016 NYK was ‘evicted’ from NZS and joined Maersk as a slot charterer alongside MOL. However, Cosco Shipping reversed track and became a vessel-provider in NZS, while ANL put in a second ship, replacing its group-mate APL which thereafter, curiously, took slots with PIL.

Some tonnage-substitution has occurred, accordingly: the Cosco-chartered 4957 teu Wiking has replaced NYK Futago, the 5029 teu ANL Whyalla replaced APL’s Sri Lanka, and the OOCL-chartered 5042 teu Sydney Trader took over from the 4249 teu Argos, which had earlier replaced the 4250 teu Hammonia Calabria. Sisters Kota Lestari and Kota APL continue, the latter renamed from Kota Loceng to reflect the new APL/PIL relationship in the service.

Maersk Boomerang

Since 1Q 2016, Maersk has been upsizing the Boomerang fleet, replacing the 4154-4658 teu G-class units owned by Maersk and subsidiary Safmarine with a number of chartered units. In have come the 6008 teu E R Amsterdam, E R France and E R Kobe; the 5618 teu Ian H; the 5466 teu wide-beam sisters Wide Charlie (taking over from the 5618 teu Tasman), Wide Bravo (replacing the short-term 6039 teu Irenes Warwick), Carl Schulte (replacing Tommi Ritscher) and returning Clemens Schulte (replacing one-trip Hammonia Francia); and the 4957 teu Wieland (replacing the one-trip ALM Wodonga).

In what now looks like a portent of the recruitment of MOL, the 6350 teu MOL Prestige and 5605 teu MOL Generosity joined in July and August respectively. MOL is expected to have three ships in Boomerang when the new membership arrangements take effect in May. Meanwhile, the sole MSC contribution has gone from the 4992 teu MSC Panama to the 4469 teu MSC Eugenia to the 4800 teu MSC Sao Paulo (MSC does not participate in the SEA loop of Boomerang). The Boomerang format remains unchanged.

Maersk Northern Star/Southern Star

After flirting with some chartered tonnage during 2015-16, Northern Star has now settled to a six-ship fleet comprising two sets of sisters, the 2824 teu Hyundai Mipo types Maersk Jabal, Maersk Jaipur and Maersk Jalan, and the marginally larger Jens Maersk, Josephine Maersk and Jeppersen Maersk.  Maersk Jabal, which undertook one Northern Star voyage under its former name Bright Future before acquisition by Maersk, suffered generator failure on successive voyages, causing a reduction in reefer capacity and some port-swapping between the two loops to compensate. Jepperson Maersk was replaced during November drydocking by the 3560 teu In Argentina, the former KIX vessel Hanjin Argentina. In early October 2016 Tauranga calls were added to Northern Star, in connection with the revamp of Triple Star (below).

Southern Star has seen only one fleet change, with the 4057 teu Safmarine-branded Safmarine Nokwanda transferred to the AC1 service and replaced by the 4258 teu Lars Maersk, joining sisters Laust Maersk, Lica Maersk, Leda Maersk and Lexa Maersk.

Triple Star

Following a complete and somewhat radical re-think of this NZ-SEA shuttle Triple Star is now a N Asia-NZ-N Asia service, with the northbound and southbound legs ‘de-coupled’.

In August 2016, Maersk inaugurated the new southbound Triple Star by incorporating Tauranga calls in its new AC1/South Pacific Express service between North & East Asia and West Coast South America/Central America. In October this was followed by the northbound component, with Tauranga added to the AC3 Central America/WCSA-N&EA service. The former is operated by 11 x 4500 teu ships and the latter by 12 x 9600 teu units.

MSC Capricorn/AES

As has been the practice for several years, Capricorn focuses on Australian imports from SEA and NZ exports (plus Brisbane), while the Australia Express Service (formerly Falcon) covers Australian exports to SEA on the way to the ISC,  Middle East, East Africa, Mediterranean and NW Europe. AES this month is resuming monthly to Esperance, WA, to load containerized nickel for transshipment in Singapore; plans for regular visits were hatched this time last year but only one AES ship (and subsequently one Capricorn) called, thanks to a dispute between cargo interests and the port authority.

As per longstanding MSC practice fleet turnover in both services is usually high, although 2016-17 has seen Capricorn almost constant with five ships of the Shanghai Chengxi 3500 class, the 3534 teu MSC Astrid, MSC Banu, Gottfried Schulte, Hope Island and Northern Diplomat, plus the 2732 teu Passat Summer and the 2745 teu Penelope.  MSC has recently notified shippers of faster transits from NZ to Europe via Capricorn – in some cases by eight days – in what is assumed to be effected through better SEA hub connections, given no apparent change to Capricorn itself.

AES has continued to employ larger ships, pushing port envelopes, and now has fourteen deployed ranging in size from 5042 teu to 7847 teu. There has been some fleet consistency in recent months but MSC continues to regularly replace northbound AES ships in Singapore with larger vessels.

CMA CGM/Hapag-Lloyd New NEMO/EAX

This service has finally completed its year-long transition to larger tonnage as existing charters for the previously-uniform, 13-strong 4250 teu fleet expired and bigger, cascading ships became available. There were several short-term deployments – Maja Rickmers, Rotterdam Bridge, Bavaria, Seaspan Lebu, Seaspan Santos, Rio Charleston, Xin Qin Huang Dao, Malleco – until what now appears to be a settled fleet was completed. The French partner now provides the 5770 teu ‘composer’ class sisters  CMA CGM Bellini, CMA CGM Chopin, CMA CGM Mozart, CMA CGM Puccini, CMA CGM Rossini, CMA CGM Strauss and CMA CGM Verdi. Hapag-Lloyd supplies the 5588 teu Aegiali, 5618 teu Brussels, 5908 teu Folegandros,  5570 teu Genoa, 5551 teu Rio Blackwater and 5527 teu Talassa. As noted last year new NEMO/EAX, with its three ISC direct calls, has become a major beneficiary of the boom in Australian exports to India.

 Multi-Purpose Services

This sector has continued to feel the impact of the end of the Australian resources boom and the resultant decline in demand for materials, equipment and supplies for major projects.

AAL maintains its services from Asian ports to west and east coast Australian ports, but the frequency of both have been further reduced; West Coast is down to one ship (the 969 teu AAL Nanjing, soon to be replaced by sister AAL Dampier) and East Coast, operationally merged with Swire Shipping’s APA service at the end of 2015 is down from four ships to three, the 2014 teu AAL Hong Kong and AAL Shanghai and the 2028 teu Szechuen.  

APA’s 2018 teu Shuntien has been shifted to Swire’s ESEA, which now has a somewhat mismatched fleet also comprising the 1257 teu Kweilin, 1728 teu Nanchang and the just-introduced 2357 teu Max Schulte. As always with Swire, there has been some fine-tuning of port calls and rotations on the ESEA and ASEA services. The Darwin-Dili-Singapore service continues to use the 618 teu MCP-type Antung.

ANL’s Perkins ANL Express also continues with two of the MCP types, ANL Darwin Trader and ANL Dili Trader, with the latter briefly replaced during drydocking by a third sister, ANL Kokoda Trader, which then moves to the APR (Brisbane-PNG) service.

The PIL-controlled Marina Express Lines has replaced chartered tonnage in its ANA service with three 1800 teu units from its parent’s fleet, Kota Nabil, Kota Nasrat and Kota Naga.

On the West Coast ASC (North West Express Line) is presently offering two distinct SEA loops, although port calls are seemingly often interchanged between both. Ships employed are small MPPs, the 260 teu ASCL Michele and the 532 teu ASCL Emma.

After a period of no regular service in 2016 – at least under its own name – Merchant Shipping has resumed approximately monthly voyages on an Esperance, Port Kelang, Singapore, Esperance rotation, principally with nickel ore in half-height containers. The company has been using spot-chartered container ships, the latest shown as the 1118 teu Frisia Alster.

Finally, there has been one newcomer to the ranks, the August 2106-inaugurated Pilbara Express Line, which began operations with the 511 teu MPP BBC Lisbon, sailing on an 18-day frequency between Dampier and Singapore with other ports on inducement. As this company appears not to have a website nor publish schedules it is not clear whether the service is still extant.

From the print edition February 23, 2017

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