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It’s Plain Sailing for the Ocean Freight Industry
Sea freight is often seen as the less dazzling subordinate to the glamorous wonder that is air freight. However, the majority of the world’s trade is transported via ocean vessels and it seems that the recession may have grounded the popularity of air freight somewhat.
Back in the good old days of low fuel prices, just-in-time replenishment and outsourcing, air freight was the chosen manner of transport for many companies. Yet, when the recession of 2009 hit, demand lessened and a dip in overall global trading became clear. This meant that adjustments had to be made to the capacity within air, ocean and road transport.
When the effects of the recession started to decline, demand for air freight gradually began to take off again. However, the continual rise in fuel prices and slow-moving economic growth meant that it has never quite reached the peak it was at previously.
It seems that the recession not only shifted logistical trends, but also business’ supply chain mind-sets. Suddenly, a need for speed was replaced with a more practical approach to manage costs when it came to air freight, as manufacturing locations moved closer to customers. For example, air freight has always benefitted from the technology industry. Yet, in its June 2012 analyst call, Dell noted its ocean shipments grew 60% year on year. Similarly, the floristry industry – who have traditionally utilised air freight – are also looking towards ocean freight in order to control costs.
This shift towards ocean freight has not gone unnoticed by express and logistics providers, as many are seeing a negative effect on their balance sheets and are having to rethink their operational approach. UPS and DHL, for example, have emphasised their ocean freight offerings through their respected freight forwarding arms, by expanding less than container (LCL) offerings across various tradelanes around the world.
Ocean Freight Tradelanes
Ocean freight exports from Asia to North America and Asia to Europe are considered some of the largest tradelanes. However, due to the slow-moving trade activity in Europe and North America, it appears that a reversal is in process, as the faster growing lanes include intra-Asia trade, North America to China and Europe to China.
As the economic environment remains subdued in Europe and the USA, it appears that China’s imports from the EU account for the largest tradelane and have increased by 96% between 2005 and 2011. Turkey also imports a significant amount of goods via sea from the EU.
Emerging imports from both the US and the EU have recorded rapid growth since 2005. In fact, total imports have risen by 91% over the six year period.
|Largest Tradelanes: EU/US to Emerging Markets|
|Origin||Destination||Tons – 2011|
|EU||Saudi Arabia||10, 378,581|
Source: Transport Intelligence
The ocean freight market is made up of numerous ocean vessels:
|Largest Carriers: Top Vessel Operators|
|Carrier||Number of Ships (as of Oct. 2012)||Total Slot Capacity (TEUs) (as of Oct. 2012)|
|Evergreen Marine Corporation||183||0.70m|
|China Shipping (CSCL)||149||0.57m|
|PIL (Pacific International Line)||166 (as of May 2013)||0.32m (as of May 2013)|
Similar to the air freight industry, the ocean freight industry includes arrangements to share space in the form of vessel sharing agreements (VSAs). Member carriers agree to share space on each other’s vessels, in particular tradelanes. Space is allocated to each carrier on each other’s vessels at an agreed-upon price on specific tradelanes.
A proposal is being drawn up by the European Commission, in order to boost activity at mid-sized ports within the region. At the moment, there is heavy dependence on the three largest ports; Rotterdam, Antwerp and Hamburg. In fact, combined, these ports account for over 20% of goods arriving in the EU by ocean.
|Largest Ports: Top Ports by Tonnage|
|Port||2010 Volume (millions of TEUs)||2011 Volume (millions of TEUs)||Percentage Change|
|Hong Kong, China||23.70||24.38||2.9%|
|Busan, South Korea||14.18||16.17||14.0%|
|Guangzhou Harbor, China||12.55||14.26||13.6%|
|Jebil Ali, Dubai, UAE||11.60||13.01||12.2.%|
Source: World Shipping Council