To say 2017 has been an eventful year for the ocean freight industry would be an understatement. From new alliances, an over-active hurricane season in the Atlantic, and numerous cyber attacks, there was no short of contenders for the top shipping events that shaped the year. But with every chronicle, there are takeaways, lessons to be learned and mistakes to be avoided.
So without further ado, here are the top 5 shipping stories of 2017 put together by the iContainers team.
Riding on the tailwind of the M&A momentum, the shipping industry saw a couple of new M&A announcements and finalizations this year. The two most high-profile cases being COSCO’s acquisition of OOCL and Maersk finalizing its Hamburg Süd purchase.
These movements are however not simply an indication of the M&A activity. COSCO’s acquisition of OOCL, once finalized, will propel the Chinese liner to overtake its Ocean Alliance partner, CMA CGM. And if rumors are proven true, the COSCO will next turn its attention to the French liner, as it works on its bid to overtake Maersk as the world’s largest container line.
If you think it’s too far-fetched, here are some figures to suggest otherwise. Industry analysts Alphaliner’s data showed that COSCO overtook Maersk to become the largest container carrier for the first time in the third quarter in terms of container liftings: 5.49 million TEUs against Maersk’s 5.26 million TEUs. A recent survey conducted by Splash 24⁄7 also indicated that 71% of respondents believe COSCO’s toppling of Maersk will happen within a decade.
Despite the ebb in M&A activity from 2016, the container shipping industry’s consolidation is set to ‘continue apace’ into the new year. According to Moody’s, consolidation has so far helped to improve efficiencies while preventing the need to incur extra debt. Forming of alliances and slot purchase agreements are thus predicted to continue in 2018.
“The trend toward consolidation among container shipping firms will continue into 2018 as larger companies look for opportunities to increase market share, while smaller companies seek to increase efficiency to maintain profitability.”
- Maria Maslovsky, Vice President-Senior Analyst, Moody’s Investment Service
2017 has been a particularly active and deadly hurricane season in the Atlantic. It ranks, along with 1936, as the fifth-most active season since records started in 1851. All ten storms that reached hurricane category occurred one after another - forming the highest number of consecutive hurricanes in the satellite era.
The unpredictability of these storms, together with that of the ocean freight industry, made for an extremely disruptive logistics season. Despite the modern era’s highly-sophisticated weather prediction technologies, the three major hurricanes - Harvey, Irma, and Maria - caused nearly $370 billion in damages - the costliest season on record.
Be it due to port closures, rescheduling, or having to store extra cargo, logistics in the US continued to face delays, days and even weeks following these storms. Many intermodal shippers in the US were unable to continue with following up with the next step of their supply chain. Analysts have also, in part, credited this disruption to the falling carrier schedule reliability.
Consequences? According to experts, freight rates are set to increase through to 2018 due to the disruption caused by the hurricanes and rising diesel prices. Warnings of 1.5% to 2.5% freight costs increases have been doled out to shippers.
The biggest reshuffle in shipping alliances came into effect in April this year, with the official launches of THE Alliance and OCEAN Alliance. But these aside, other important partnerships have also been proposed, announced, finalized, and signed.
These include the South Korean Partnership - a unity of all remaining South Korean lines (following the collapse of Hanjin Shipping), HMM’s strategic cooperation with the 2M Alliance, and Japan’s Ocean Network Express (ONE) joint venture, which will begin its services on April 1st, 2018.
Nine months in, THE Alliance and Ocean Alliance have announced shuffled service offerings for 2018.
THE Alliance’s new services to kick in come April 2018 will include 33 revamped loops to cover 81 ports, and with more than 250 vessels to their major east-west routes. Here’s a summary of their new offerings: - Transpacific: 16 services - Asia-Europe: 8 services - Asia-Mediterranean: 3 services - North Atlantic: 7 services - Middle East: 2 services
As for the Ocean Alliance, these are their new offerings:
Together with the 2M Alliance, these three alliances essentially cover 95% of the global container trade. Analysts say this dramatic chain of consolidation we’ve seen in the past couple of years has been necessary - given the volatile global market supply and demand over the past decade or so.
As a result of these partnerships, we’re experiencing an inevitable fall in competition. But on the other hand, there’s been a more effective management of the existing capacity, better alignment of vessel orders and demand forecasts, and an overall reduction of operational costs as alliance members are able to call on new ports and take advantage of new routes.
Possibly the most important development that the US logistics, or more specifically, trucking industry has been following as the deadline drew closer and closer to date. The Electronic Logging Device implementation on trucks came into effect on December 18th, 2017, much to the joy of some and despair of others.
The mandate sets into plan the limiting of hours a truck driver can drive by doing away with the old-school pen and paper log books and introducing electronic logging devices. This reduction will see supply chains become less flexible - amid rising freight demand. And while most large trucking companies have already complied with the mandatory change, it’s estimated that many smaller trucking companies still have yet to make the switch.
Proponents of the mandate say that the mandate will make roadways safer by reducing the number of fatigue-related accidents involving large trucks. According to the mandate, truck drivers are obligated to take a 10-hour break for every 11-hour drive. Here’s a link that can help you better understand the ELD mandate and what it implies.
However, those against the mandate had argued that it violated driver confidentiality and the Fourth Amendment - specifically, prohibition against unreasonable searches and seizures.
It’s still too early to say how big the impact will be on logistics chain. But keeping in mind that the ELD implementation comes amid rising calls for punctual deliveries and precise fulfillments, it sure does not look bright. According to reports, these ‘inefficiencies’ are likely to also spill over to shippers, around 20% of whom have yet to prepare for the mandate implementation.
The cyber attack on Maersk in June saw many things come to light: The importance of beefing up the shipping industry’s security systems, and the ease at which hackers can and have accessed shipping systems.
The cyber attack caused Maersk’s business volumes to fall, as a result of being unable to take bookings. Responsible for around 15% of the global container trade, the world’s largest shipping carrier saw its container ships stuck at sea and 76 port terminal operations come to a standstill. The Danish liner lost as much as $300 million in the third quarter of the year and has had to cut its overall profits. But perhaps the most impactful lesson of all - the loss of control over your own systems.
“It was frankly quite a shocking experience. Your email goes down, all your address systems. We ended up having to use WhatsApp on our private phones.”
- Soren Skou, Maersk CEO
Barely half a year passed before the industry was hit by yet another attack. This time, on UK shipping brokers Clarksons in late November. Standing firm on their policy, the company rejected a ransom requiets and braced themselves for the release of private company data.
What all these goes to show is the vulnerable state in which the ocean freight industry finds itself. Calls for the maritime shipping sector to upgrade their security systems must be heeded, or more infiltrations are likely. Already, studies have shown the ease at which hackers can capsize large vessels, and alter data to manipulate money transfers.
As we head into 2018, let’s hope that the industry begins to seriously consider taking the first steps required to fortify their cyber defenses before yet another attack occurs.