Maritime alliances: more services and better connectivity

International trade, and shipping in particular, reflects the situation of the global economy. After experiencing strong growth in the early years of the century, the economy has suffered from stagnation that has affected maritime traffic and, consequently, the financial results of shipping companies. To remedy this situation, such companies have begun forming alliances, a situation that is leading to an unprecedented concentration in the sector. Maritime transport is therefore opening up to a new scenario, in constant evolution and ready to adapt more quickly to the connectivity needs of each region.

Traffic stagnation coincided with a significant increase in fleet capacity. The container ships with a capacity for more than 19,000 TEU, which were ordered during the boom years to improve economies of scale, are now coming into service. Ship owners must therefore face the challenge of rationalising their investments by filling this enormous transport capacity.

Alliances now account for 80% of global market share

In the last quarter of a century the industry has witnessed a process of mergers and acquisitions among shipping companies, to become large enough to successfully face the challenges of globalisation. In addition to the ongoing partnerships between companies, 16 of the world’s top 20 shipping companies have recently joined global alliances that have now cornered more than 80% of the market. These alliances are extremely varied, with different levels of integration between companies, and seek to reduce the operating costs of these fleets by redesigning maritime routes, in both oceanic and feeder services, and sending ships where the market demands them.

The characteristics of these new partnerships are many and varied, but the three most important ones are: organising routes to meet the volume of cargo for each destination; concentrating commercial and strategic decisions in just a few hands; and, as a consequence of this last element, developing a greater ability to adapt to market changes.

This quantum leap and the ability to change shipping routes quickly will determine how maritime transport evolves in the coming years. The capacity of ports to adapt to these two factors and the needs of the large alliances will establish their position in this new, constantly changing global scenario.

The European port closest to Asia

The Port of Barcelona is one of the European ports chosen by these alliances and independent shipping companies to receive new maritime routes. The 2M alliance, comprising the world’s first and second shipping companies Maersk Line and Mediterranean Shipping Company (MSC), with a total capacity of 2.9 and 2.5 million TEUs respectively, rolled out their new services to Barcelona in early 2015. Of note are the Condor/AE9 service connecting the Port directly with Asia, making Barcelona one of the main European ports of call for this route, with a transit time of just 23 days between Shanghai and Barcelona.

Besides Condor/AE9, the 2M alliance has started operating two new services calling at Barcelona – Jade/AE11 and Dragon/AE20 – providing a substantial improvement in connectivity. The Port is now offering its customers new stopovers at Far East ports and shorter transit times in most cases.

One stopover daily between Barcelona and the Far East

Another alliance, called Ocean Three (O3) involving the world’s third largest shipping company CMA CGM along with China Shipping and UASC has also selected Barcelona as one of the bases for its operations in the Mediterranean. Its Middle East-Indian Subcontinent-North America (MINA)/MAX2 service, linking India with North America, now stops at the Port, which also improves connectivity with both markets.

With a total capacity of 2.6 million TEUs, O3 also provides a substantial quantitative and qualitative improvement of the Port of Barcelona’s services and connectivity. While the alliances have ushered in new services and better transit times for traffic with Asia and North America, the various companies have maintained their services between Barcelona and the rest of the world. These are therefore new shipping lines that add to those already in operation.

These new services are provided in addition to other alliances in Barcelona: CKYHE, comprising Cosco, K Line, Yang Ming, Hanging and Evergreen Marine Corp.; and G6, consisting of APL, Hapag-Lloyd, Hyundai Merchant Marine, Mitsui O.S.K. Lines, Nippon Yusen Kaisha and Orient Overseas Container Line. With all the services operated by the alliances at the Port of Barcelona, our port can provide importers and exporters with a daily stopover with the Far Eastern ports. The Port of Barcelona is one of the best connected with the foreland.

Complex land operations

The Port is already seeing the change in scale provided by these new services. The MSC London, a 400-metre long container ship with a capacity of 16,600 TEUs assigned to the Dragon/AE20 service, has begun to use Barcelona as a port of call. A ship of these characteristics requires complex land operations, with six cranes working simultaneously and a high degree of coordination between the terminal and the logistics operators involved. For the Jade/AE11 and Dragon/AE20 services, the 2M alliance has also assigned ships with a minimum capacity of 14,000 TEU.

Unlike other ports in the area, Barcelona does not have terminals operated by or associated to shipping companies. It has been selected by alliances and shipping companies to receive new services thanks to the continued growth of full import and export containers generated by its domestic markets; its ability to serve these huge ships quickly; the quality and quantity of its offer of logistics; and its Port Community’s orientation towards responding to the needs of its customers – importers and exporters, logistics operators and shipping companies.

Barcelona’s BEST and TCB terminals have sufficient space and infrastructure to serve these container ships quickly and efficiently; it has one of the highest productivity rates in Europe; and it offers a wide range of highly competitive logistics services and intermodal connections with the hinterland. The Port of Barcelona is ready for this quantum leap in the maritime business organisation and services ushered in by the alliances, but also by the new global scenario that is crystallising. The Port can achieve all this thanks to ongoing market adaptation by improving its services and, ultimately, by adapting to constant change.

Source: News Port de Barcelona.