Top 5 shipping stories of 2017 Q2

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5. Spanish port workers strike

Spanish port workers’ strike disrupted goods transportation in southern Europe as carriers were forced to redirect their cargo to avoid logistical delays. Ports in neighboring Portugal, Morocco, and even Malta have been called as alternative destinations. 

The strikes were called by the CETM union following the breakdown of talks with the Spanish government and companies. It pertains to the abolition of a dock labor scheme which grants port workers job security and improved wages. It affects around 6,000 port workers, who have threatened to continue striking until they receive a guarantee that they will not lose their jobs after a new port deregulation law is implemented.

To put things into a financial perspective, one of the two-day strikes in mid-June cost the country $123 million and 34 ship diversions. The strikes affected many key Spanish ports including Algeciras, Barcelona, Valencia, Bilbao, and Seville. Top liner Maersk has even rerouted some of its transshipment cargo from Algeciras to Tangier in Morocco. The worst is, however, still not over. More strikes are expected throughout Europe as dockworkers of other European countries stand in solidarity with their Spanish counterparts.

4. Carriers clamp down on no-shows

Shipping lines Maersk, CMA CGM, and Hapag-Lloyd have begun implementing no shows fines on shipments that fail to show up on the vessel. It appears the carriers are reviving the attempt to tackle the long-standing problem of no shows.

They’ve started with smaller-volume routes so far, in an apparent move to ‘test’ the fine. The issue of no shows have plagued the carriers for a long time. Hapag-Lloyd estimates that around 25% of its bookings do not load as a result of no shows. These cause huge costs for the carriers, who may be forced to lower their rates as a last-ditch effort to fill their vessels.

The no-shows fine could be a potential ‘nightmare’ for freight forwarders. OTIs and NVOCCs may find themselves facing an increasing loss of control over a customer’s shipment.

“For freight forwarders and NVOCCs, these fees could become a much bigger challenge. We do not necessarily control the cargo we are booking and often have no control over a client canceling at the last minute. The OTI community will have to prepare themselves. They should consider implementing policies to prevent potential accounting nightmares that could leave the OTIs stuck with cancellation charges.” – Klaus Lysdal, VP Sales & Operations, iContainers

According to the New York Shipping Exchange, no shows cost the ocean freight industry $23 billion per year in additional costs.

3. Rickmers files for bankruptcy

Rickmers: the latest industry victim following Hanjin Shipping’s collapse last August. The German shipping group filed for insolvency earlier this month after main lenders HSH Nordbank rejected its financial restructuring plan and further discussions. The group is reported to be €1.5 billion in debt, most of which are owed to HSH Nordbank and Unicredit.

The group owns 33 container vessels with four more pending on the order sheets, four dry bulkers and two vehicle carriers. In total, it has a combined fleet of 114 vessels. In 2016, it recorded a €342 million loss, more than double of its 2015 loss of €135.5 million.

It’s now undergoing a self-administered restructuring to try to stay afloat. According to reports, this is an option “under the German insolvency code, on the basis of continuation of business and vessel operations”.

“The aim of the executive board is to work out a new restructuring solution together with the creditors and making use of the tools of insolvency law. Banks, bondholders and the workforce will be represented on a temporary committee of creditors.” – Rickmers

Rickmers has since delisted its 2013/2018 bond due in Frankfurt next year. Launched 4 years ago, the five-year bonds had reached a peak of over €100. But it has dipped to as low as €2.46 following its filing.

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2. Japanese lines merger rejection

The planned merger of Japan’s NYK, MOL, and K-Line hit roadworks after the US Federal Maritime Commission rejected the merger. According to the FMC, the approval falls outside its jurisdiction. More specifically, of the Shipping Act of 1984.

The Shipping Act does not include acquisition agreements. And the FMC says it is only able to review and cooperation agreements on a smaller scale. These include the Ocean Alliance and THE Alliance whereby group members maintain their identities and independence. The Japanese venture, however, involves combining the three separate liners into one entity.

“In order to receive the benefits of a merger, one needs to first merge . . . [and] much of what the Tripartite parties were asking for revolved around pre-merger or pre-consolidation coordination.”

– William Doyle, FMC Commissioner

The matter has since been forwarded to the US Department of Justice.

The liners faced another setback when South Africa’s antitrust watchdog rejected its merger plans. According to them, the deal would discourage competition in the market.

The joint venture of the trio, which will operate under the name Ocean Network Express, or ONE, has already obtained approval from Singapore. Following the merger, which is set to begin operations on April 1, 2018, the group will manage around 7% of the global market share.

1. Shipping alliances regroup

In early April, the top shipping carriers around the world regrouped to form new shipping alliances. Mainly the 2M Alliance, THE Alliance, and Ocean Alliance, these three groupings represent 77.2% of global container capacity and a massive 96% of all East-West ocean freight trades.

It’s perhaps still too early to predict the larger repercussions or effects of the regrouping. But for a start, we’ve seen delays in ports including the Port of Rotterdam as the new alliances are being phased in. Hopefully the backlogs will start clearing once the changes settle.

On a more positive note, the US Ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach have recorded their highest cargo figures in May. This was attributed to the ‘cost-saving’ new shipping alliances.

“The new alliances are making more efficient use of our terminals with their deployments.” – Lori Ann Guzmán, President of the Habor Commission

Other more positive reports say vessel demand is set to increase by 5% in TEU capacity as a result of the new groupings. Most of the big carriers are expected to swing into green this year, after having posted mostly losses in 2016.

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