Transhipment dice roll again

COMMENT: One of the consequences of the formation of the mega-alliances that has yet to work its way fully through is the relocation of transhipment volumes, writes Mike Mundy.

Intertwined with this there is also the impact of recent liner sector consolidation and what can be described as a ‘back to basics’ culture whereby lines such as MSC and now Maersk, wherever possible, route transhipment volumes via their own terminal facilities.

Take Gdansk in Poland, for example, where Maersk is a major customer at the deep-water hub DCT Gdansk SA. Maersk uses the hub for both gateway and transhipment cargo, but its sister company APM Terminals now has assets in the region as whole. This includes an equity stake in Russia’s Global Ports and it is the holder of terminal operating concessions at Bremerhaven and Gothenburg.

Add to this the fact that Maersk’s feeder affiliate Seago Line has placed orders for seven ice class container vessels to be deployed in the Baltic and North Sea regions and will, at the end of this year, start to replace vessels of half their size or less, then the question must be asked is Maersk thinking of a new transhipment strategy for the Baltic based around using its own group facilities? Adjustment of internal cost factors can develop alternative viable economic scenarios, particularly if there is a premier goal in mind, such as growing Maersk’s market share.

Another location where potentially there may be change waiting in the wings is Cartagena, Colombia. Hamburg Süd - recently acquired by Maersk - now utilises almost all the capacity at the deep-water Contecar terminal. But will this still prove to be the case when APM Terminals’ new Moin Container Terminal finally opens for business in February 2019, 13 months later than planned due to construction difficulties? It seems a natural step to divert cargo from a third-party operated location to a nearby in-house facility, albeit that this may have to be within the time span dictated by contractual requirements.

It is also reasonable to expect that such scenarios will spur vertical integration, if feasible, with independent transhipment terminal operators being compelled to trade equity for volume.

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