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Mediterranean markets face ‘potential feeder containership shortage’

The impact of environmental regulations on an older fleet could tighten available tonnage in southern Europe, according to Daniel Richards from Maritime Strategies International.

Dedicated newbuild contracting by regional Mediterranean owners will have to increase in the coming years to replace ageing vessels removed from the fleet as progressively tighter environmental regulations come into force.

In our latest quarterly containership sector report, Maritime Strategies International compares fleet replacement trends in the two principal regional markets, intra-Asia and intra-Mediterranean.

While Southeast Asian cabotage trades tend to make an elderly fleet profile more common, the current age profile of the intra-Med fleet suggests that dedicated contracting from regional operators will need to increase in the coming years to replenish vessels removed from the fleet. Without such additions, capacity available to provide spoke connections in the transhipment-heavy Mediterranean markets might end up in short supply.

Containership deployment trends in the coming years will not only be impacted by the reinvigorated containership cascade, but also increasingly by the effects of fleet ageing and the fallout from new environmental regulations. How this impacts different sub-regional container markets will depend in part on how the existing age profile of vessels deployed on each trade stands.

Analysis by MSI of the sub-3,900 teu containerships currently on order suggests that just over 50% has been contracted by an operator or owner which MSI believes is highly likely to ultimately deploy the vessel on an intra-Asia service.

This potential for a shortage of vessels available to provide transhipment connections in the Mediterranean could also be exacerbated by changes in vessel sailing speeds in the years ahead. There is a huge amount of uncertainty about how average sailing speeds will change in response to changes in environmental regulations, with potentially significant implications for industry market balances.

Recent months have seen average sailing speeds tracked by AIS data show a notable slowdown relative to the peaks seen in 2021. The decrease in speed has been largest in proportional terms for sub-3,000 teu vessels, and smallest for the 8,000+ teu fleet.

Weaker cargo volumes – and potentially a reduced need to speed up in order to make up for schedule delays – provide the likely explanation, while the significant increase in global bunker prices relative to late-2021 is also a potential factor.

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