Having been one of the few fast-growing segments in the containership industry until recently, the idle containership fleet has since gone on a crash diet, according to shipping consultancy Drewry.
The idle fleet has shrunk from 1.7 million TEU in November 2016 to under 500,000 TEU as of June 2017. This is welcome news for carriers as it means that the industry is getting healthier, with fewer unwanted assets draining costs.
The idle fleet will likely plateau for the rest of the year as some short-term fixtures are parked up once again, mitigated by some scrapping, meaning that the industry is close to recovery, but is not quite there with still too many assets that are simply unviable.
There are a number of reasons for the sudden slimming down. Firstly, a large proportion of former Hanjin Shipping units that were parked up almost overnight in the aftermath of its untidy bankruptcy have since either been scrapped or picked up by other owners and operators. By early June 2017 only 13 of the original Hanjin idled ships had not been re-deployed, leaving some 100,000 TEU idled.
Another factor that helped to shape a leaner idle fleet was the number of formerly inactive ships that were scrapped. From early December 2016 to the mid-March Drewry counted some 23 ships aggregating 76,000 TEU that were scrapped out of idled positions.
From March to the end of June some 133 idle ships were reactivated with the majority of 74 being deployed in the core East-West trades, primarily the Transpacific. Another 30 vessels moved into the secondary East-West trades, with many placed on the Asia to India and Middle-East trades. Only 18 ships have moved into the North-South trades, but MSC has been active in taking the largest ships possible – including a couple of 9,400 TEU ships that have been put into the ECSA routes.
“While the idle fleet is a good barometer of the overall health of the industry it is important to remember that last year’s peak and the recent toning down were skewed by one-off events,” Drewry said, adding that it was never as bad as it looked last year, “but the recovery has been aided by the temporary demand for filler ships that won’t last.”
The idle fleet is expected to remain at about 2-3% of the total containership fleet throughout the summer, before rising slightly during the slack season that comes into play in the final months of the year, Drewry informs.