Regional trade, that sometimes overlooked sector of the container shipping industry, has taken increasing focus in recent weeks with many of the major shipping lines turning their attention to developing new services and adjusting coverage of areas showing improving market potential.
Countries previously of a low- to middle-profile in the shipping industry have progressively built up important services connecting not only with other neighbouring local regions, but with transhipment connections to the major East/West mainhaul trade routes linking up with the United States and Europe. Vietnam, for example, has moved increasingly into the limelight during the first quarter of 2015, with the setting up of new services linking up with mainhaul ports in Asia.
From the beginning of February, Wan Hai Lines will step up its Vietnam coverage with a third service centring the important Haiphong region. Operated with three 700 teu vessels, this service will cover Hakata, Moji, Incheon, Dalian, Kaohsiung, Hong Kong, Haiphong, Fang Cheng, Hong Kong, Kaohsiung and Hakata. The connections over Dalian, Hong Kong and Kaohsiung are established not only to cover regional traffic, but also connect with the major East/West service network. The first sailing is scheduled for February 1.
Wan Hai has also taken centre stage through a joint service with APL on an intra-Asia service covering Kaohsiung/China/Southeast Asia from the beginning of January. This service will see Wan Hai deploy one of the 3,000 teu vessels used to operate this service to cover the important Central Asia/Southeast Asia area, with APL providing the other two in order to operate a fixed-day weekly service.
The Kaohsiung/China/Southeast Asia service, to be known as the KCS service by Wan Hai, will deploy 3 x 3,000 teu vessels and offer a port rotation of Kaohsiung, Xiamen, Hong Kong, Chiwan, Port Kelang, Singapore, Jakarta, Singapore and Kaohsiung. The first southbound sailing from Kaohsiung took place at the beginning of January.
Fellow Taiwan line Evergreen has also been active in the intra-Asia trade development programme of late, with several important joint service links established with other shipping lines. Again, as is the case with Wan Hai, the new service links are specifically aimed at markets and trade lanes which, until now, have been of a lower profile of importance, but which are, in the near future, showing great potential of developing into significant trade regions.
Evergreen is expanding its coverage of the southeast Asia region through the launching of a new China/Philippines service known as the CPH service. The new service is a joint service operation between Evergreen and China Navigation Co (CNC) and covers Shanghai, Ningbo, Xiamen, Shekou, Manila (South Port) and Shanghai. Capacity deployment on this new service comprises two 1,200/1,700 teu vessels.
In addition to that new service, Evergreen has also come to the forefront with a slot purchase agreement courtesy of COSCO and Hanjin on the Japan/China trade. The new Evergreen service, known as the JCV1 service, runs with three 1,500/1,700 teu vessels.
OOCL has also been active in the intra-Asia regional trade development market with the establishment of a new North China/Busan/Southeast Asia Service known as the NPS service. The service will operate with 4 x 2,200/2,500 teu vessels, all provided by OOCL. The first sailing of the NPS is scheduled to leave Singapore on January 27. Full port rotation will be Lianyungang, Qingdao, Dalian, Tianjin, Busan, Singapore, Laem Chabang, Kaohsiung and Lianyungang.
It is not only the mainline operators that have seen the true potential of intra-Asia trade development, but established regional operators have also stepped their coverage with new services. CMA-CGM’s dedicated intra-Asia operator, Cheng Lie Navigation Co, is looking to include a new weekly service connecting South Korea, Hong Kong, Thailand and Vietnam. The new service will be via a slot purchase deal on the recently launched through New Thailand Express (NTX) service jointly operated by Namsung Shipping, CK Line and Dongjin Shipping Co.
The NTX was launched in November 2014 and includes direct calls at Incheon, Gwangyang, Busan, Hong Kong, Laem Chabang, Bangkok, Laem Chabang, Ho Chi Minh City and Incheon. Deployment on the service is through three vessels of 1,400-1,800 teu.
The new slot agreement for Cheng Lie becomes effective with the first southbound sailing from Incheon on January 26 by the 1,400 teu Cape Flint.
For the line itself, the NTX 1 adds another service in its already important South Korea/Vietnam/Vietnam market coverage, which includes another slot purchase deal with Namsung Shipping and CK Line on the Korea/Vietnam/Thailand KVT service operated with three vessels of 1,800/1,900 teu capacity.
In addition to this development, Cheng Lie is to start a new China/Indonesia/Philippines fixed-day weekly container service in early February, known as the China 2, adding to its already existing China/Indonesia/Philippines China 1 weekly service. The new service will offer direct calls at Dalian, Xingang, Lianyungang, Chiwan, Jakarta, Surabaya, Davao, Shanghai and Dalian.
Importantly, this service provide the only direct link between the North China port of Lianyungang and Indonesia. In the past and until May 2012, Cheng Lie had provided the North China/Indonesia link via a slot agreement with Yangming on the Pan Asia Service (PAS), but this service ended for Cheng Lie following the restructuring of Yangming.
The new China 2 service also provides a Chiwan-Surabaya direct connection as well as northbound calls at Davao in the southern Philippines, with a five-day transit time to the next port of call, Shanghai. Start up date for the China 2 service is provisionally scheduled for the first week of February.
Regional expansion programmes are not only being limited to Asia, but lines are also looking at Europe as well, in particular the Baltic regions. OOCL is expanding its ScanBaltic service portfolio with the addition of new services to offer further port coverage and increased sailings frequencies in the Baltic region. Under the new ScanBaltic setup, there will be 15 sailings per week, with seven covering St Petersburg, four covering Helsinki, and three covering Kotka and Gdynia. In addition, Klaipeda and Riga will each have a two-sailing coverage.
For the Baltic region, the port coverage is set out below:
SBXA: Hamburg, Kotka, Helsinki, Gdynia, Hamburg
SBXB: Hamburg, Bremerhaven, Helsinki, Bremerhaven, Hamburg, Gdynia, Hamburg
SBXC: Bremerhaven, Hamburg, St Petersburg, Hamburg, Bremerhaven, Szczecin, Klaipeda, Bremerhaven, Hamburg, Riga, Klaipeda, Bremerhaven
SBXD: Bremerhaven, Hamburg, Tallinn, Bremerhaven, Hamburg, St Petersburg, Kotka, Gavle, Bremerhaven
SBXE: St Petersburg, Hamburg, St Petersburg, Rotterdam, Antwerp, St Petersburg
SBXF: St Petersburg, Gdynia, Hamburg, Gdynia, St Petersburg, Rotterdam, St Petersburg
SBXG: Bremerhaven, Hamburg, Kotka, Helsinki, Bremerhaven, Hamburg, Ust Luga, St Petersburg, Helsinki, Rauma, Bremerhaven
Outside of the service network, operational matters in the Baltic for COSCO are also changing. COSCO Container Lines Europe has been handed the control of six intra-Europe services, and the operational responsibilities of shorthaul slots on mainhaul services and other relevant future services, by COSCO Container Lines (COSCON). The move has been made in order to provide faster response to market changes and demand.
The six intra-Europe services concerned in the switch are: Russia/Finland Service (RFS), Adriatic Feeder Service (AFS), East Med Feeder Service Express (MSX), COSCON Naples Express (PNX), Med Feeder Service Express (MFS) and Med/West Africa Service (MAF).
By Paul Richardson
Sea Freight Correspondent | London