Who’s fooling who as alliance reshuffle falls tomorrow?

I imagine most Splash readers belong to one or another of the world’s main airline alliances. I’ve been a card carrying OneWorld member since the start of the century. As a loyal client sticking with one alliance yields all sorts of perks plus there’s a certain assurance and familiarity by just using the same stable of carriers.

Pity poor shippers then as such stability in alliance selection has never existed. Today is the last day of the old liner world, there’s just hours left of CKYHE, Ocean 3 and G6.

Did the world’s liner planners not clock the irony of tomorrow’s date when choosing a time to launch the new dawn for container shipping? April Fool’s Day does seem appropriate however for the start of THE Alliance, the Ocean Alliance and 2M redux. It’s just hard to see who are the fools – the lines for their slovenly planning for tomorrow’s big day, their clients for putting up with them or the regulators for letting the lines get away with this monopolistic move.

It was just two years ago that the world’s top liners reshuffled alliances, promising then that this latest change would last for five years. Five years in container shipping in the 21st century is an awfully long time however.

The European Shippers’ Council (ESC) hit out this Tuesday at the mess created by all this box merry-go-round in one of the most read articles on Splash all week.

Shippers seeking to move goods from Europe to Asia have been struggling this month thanks to 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 tomorrow.

The confusion and growing anger was always likely when one looks at how last-minute so much of the planning has been for tomorrow’s big day. Ports were kept in the dark about the alliances’ final network details until a couple of weeks ago giving scant time to prepare their landside operations.

Then there’s the whole competition question to ponder as we count down to tomorrow. The ESC has also drawn the attention of the regulation authorities to the upcoming market structure where from Saturday three major alliances control close to 90% of the capacity on the major trades. The council’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.

We’ll be closely following the trials, tribulations and turbulence of shippers and liners alike from tomorrow onwards.


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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