Are mega boxships and mergers costing the earth?

Malcolm Latarche
Malcolm Latarche

31 August 2017


This week’s Seaintel Newsletter has covered the rise and fall in fortunes of major container ports following the latest round of mergers and acquisitions and the new alliances in the liner sector. There are some quite interesting movements in the positions of ports in the league tables with some gaining ground and many losing out. While it may come as no surprise that Rotterdam remains the top port in Europe for trade from Asia and Hamburg keeps its second place, Antwerp has moved up to third pushing Bremerhaven, Le Havre and Felixstowe down a place. London Gateway now gets 10 calls a month over the four it had back in 2014. Gioia Tauro has also jumped from an average of 4 port calls per month in 2014 to 13.5 in 1H-2017. Other winners across the are world are Singapore, Valencia, Yantian, Laem Chabang and Massaxlokk while Algeciras, Port Said, Piraeus and Port Klang have lost business. There is nothing particularly new about liner services dropping, adding or swapping ports, it has been done regularly over time. However, the sheer size of modern container vessels means that winning a new service comes at a price in new equipment with extended reach cranes and more straddle carriers to move boxes around the terminal and extra dredging to maintain channels deep enough to accommodate the ships. Meanwhile the port which loses business having already purchased such equipment sees its investment wasted as cranes and plant stand idle. For all the talk of shipping having to embrace the principal of sustainable development, it seems that few are really doing that. There is already recognised overcapacity in the world fleet and the continual churn of ports having to grow to be able to attract or retain business with no certainty that it will is surely a waste of money and other resources. It would be less of a problem if the growth in ship size was to be halted because then there would be no need to continue the need for ports to grow at the same rate.