Despite the current overcapacity of tonnage and disastrous shipping rates, the world containership fleet is expected to continue its rapid growth curve, albeit at a slightly reduced rate, as deliveries are taken from shipyards and new shipbuilding orders start to pick up later this year. That is the conclusion of the Shipbuilding Market Forecast for Container and Roll-On Roll-Off (Ro-Ro) Ships released this month by Lloyd’s Register - Fairplay (LRF) Research.
By any measure, the current picture for containership operators is grim, caused by the severe imbalance in supply and demand under the sluggish economic conditions worldwide. Spot rates of as low as $250 to move a container from Hong Kong to Rotterdam are being quoted by some lines. That compares with $1,400 a year ago. It is no wonder that a large portion of the fleet is idle, with a record 1 million teu (twenty-foot equivalent units) of capacity in layup, and many other ships riding at anchor hoping for a near-term revival. While most larger fleet owners have amassed sufficient reserves from the boom years to survive the crunch, some smaller lines have already succumbed.
Nonetheless, the LRF Research report predicts an upturn in 2009 toward modest levels. New shipbuilding orders have not fallen to zero, and there has not thus far been a rush to cancel existing orders at shipyards. The global containership fleet stands at 4,671 ships with a total capacity of 12.4 million teu. It is expected to grow by 13 percent in 2009, as new ships ordered during the boom years are delivered to their owners. The growth rate will slow somewhat to 9.3 percent annually through 2013. Significantly, the growth rate will be highest for very large ships bigger than 8,000-teu capacity, which will achieve a staggering average growth rate of 25 percent through 2013.
Normally, removals help to keep a fleet in balance, as older ships are scrapped to make room for new ones. In the case of the current containership market, however, a large percentage of tonnage is relatively new, and removals are only expected to erase some 904,000 teu of capacity from the fleet over the next five years.
South Korea is expected to continue its domination of the shipbuilding market for very large containerships, while China will continue to capture a larger market in the smaller containership sector, according to the LRF Research report.
In addition to containerships, the report provides analysis of the shipbuilding prospects for Ro-Ro ships and vehicle carriers.