Former UASC America boss urges Washington to disband liner alliances

The former head of the US operations of liner outfit United Arab Shipping Company (UASC) has fired a broadside on the industry he worked in for decades, urging authorities to step in and axe current alliance set-ups.

Anil Vitarana, who worked for UASC as president of North American operations through to 2015, currently runs shipper advisory Cranford Consulting out of New Jersey.

Writing on LinkedIn, Vitarana pointed out how the average spot rate for an feu going from China to the US west coast according to data from the Shanghai Containerized Freight Index ( SCFI) had leapt by 780% over the past 26 months.

If the alliances changed the competitive landscape, withdrawing regulatory approval could equally change the equilibrium

Vitarana hit out at the $190bn profits liners are thought to have made last year, according to Drewry estimates. The extraordinary turnaround in fortunes, he stated, was down to liner consolidation and the overarching power of the three global container alliances, something he urged Washington to dismiss.

In the social media post, entitled ‘Are ocean carriers guilty of price gouging?’, Vitarana wrote: “Carrier consolidation and the regulatory approval granted to the major carriers to group themselves into 3 alliances completely changed the competitive landscape that allowed prudent capacity management. When demand suddenly increased, carriers found themselves in the driving seat.”

Vitarana has counselled his clients who are primarily smaller importers to bring their plight to the attention of the secretary of transportation, the Federal Maritime Commission and their local representative in the senate and the house of representatives.

“Hitherto,” he wrote, “they remain disappointed with the response and do not believe that the proposed Ocean Shipping Reform Act ( OSRA 21) would be the panacea for their ills.”

Vitarana’s solution is to disband the alliances in the US.

“If the alliances changed the competitive landscape, withdrawing regulatory approval could equally change the equilibrium,” he wrote, stressing that this was not something that could happen fast as it could actually worsen today’s supply chain crisis if done a haste. Vitarana suggested a two-year period of notice to allow carriers to use their profits to augment capacity and launch individual services, bringing back more competition.

The nature of the three global liner alliances has been scrutinised by authorities and shippers around the world during the pandemic, when lines have reported all-time record profits while at the same time operating the sloppiest schedule reliability in the history of containerisation.

Carriers have sought to play down much of the political posturing. The World Shipping Council, the Washington DC-based liner lobbying group, has argued that normalised demand, not regulation, will solve the supply chain woes that have bedevilled shippers over the past year.

Sam Chambers

Starting out with the Informa Group in 2000 in Hong Kong, Sam Chambers became editor of Maritime Asia magazine as well as East Asia Editor for the world’s oldest newspaper, Lloyd’s List. In 2005 he pursued a freelance career and wrote for a variety of titles including taking on the role of Asia Editor at Seatrade magazine and China correspondent for Supply Chain Asia. His work has also appeared in The Economist, The New York Times, The Sunday Times and The International Herald Tribune.


  1. All I’ll say here is this;
    There seems to be a big push globally to regulate/enforce carriers rates/profits, where were these same voices when rates were at record lows 3-4 years ago and the liners were losing money hand over fist?
    When the carriers lose money, it seems to be “it’s their own fault for creating capacity & chasing market share” but when said capacity is then moderated & priced accordingly with demand, suddenly the narrative changes to “they’re gouging the public”

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