Shippers cry foul over April 1 reshuffle of the global container alliances

April 1 could turn out to be a proper fool’s day for the world’s leading containerlines. Saturday kicks off the new structure of alliances, whereby four groups become three. However, indications are that preparations are not going smoothly.

European Shippers’ Council members report that many shippers who regularly export goods to Asia have been facing a large drop of available slots for containers on almost every shipping line.

The main reason given by carriers of the two new alliances – the Ocean Alliance and THE Alliance – is the reshuffling of their organisation and the repositioning of their ships to start their new services next month. 2M, meanwhile, the partnership between Maersk and MSC, has stopped accepting freight from customers of competitors turning them away because of the shortage of capacity encountered.

“Shippers are confronted with heavily damaging situations, ranging from breeching of contractual commitments by some liners to impossibility to get boarding slots before May,” the council said in a statement. This is resulting in a very fluctuating freight rate situation, with instant hikes up to 45% to firm up a booking.

ESC has also drawn the attention of the regulation authorities to theupcoming market structure where from Saturday three major alliances control close to 90% of the capacity on the major trades. ESC’s concerns follow hot on the heels of the FBI raiding a meeting of the Box Club, the annual get together of the world’s top liners.

“Despite carriers not violating any present regional regulation on competition, the combination of a high concentration of players and a recurrent instability within the alliances induces a much higher risk of making this kind of market disruption frequent and significant,” ESC said.

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.
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