Drewry said as containerships get larger, carriers appear to favor skipping voyages rather than laying up vessels as a means to control capacity.
"Whilst the number of vessels idled is increasing, far fewer have been taken out of service compared to a year ago, confirming ocean carriers’ preference for cancelling sailings as and when required, rather than withdrawing whole services – particularly when the ships involved are over 8,000 TEUs," said the London-based consultants in the latest issue of Drewry Container Insight Weekly
Drewry said 175 vessels with a combined capacity of 516,800 TEUs lay idled in mid-January, accounting for 3 percent of the current fleet in terms of capacity, compared to only 152 vessels offering a capacity of 239,000 TEUs in September. In December 2012, about 290 vessels offering
800,000 TEUs of capacity were idled.
"In theory, many more vessels should be going into lay up as the global fleet capacity growth again outstripped demand in 2013," Drewry said. However, the firm said carriers are most reluctant to lay up their largest ships.
"The ships that really need to be laid up are deployed in the Asia-North Europe trade lane where the average size of vessel is now over 10,500 TEUs. In the 2012 winter season three whole services were withdrawn from the route compared to none this year, even though westbound cargo growth in the first 11 months of 2013 was only 2 percent.
"Although the idle fleet capacity will rise in February due to the Chinese New Year, further service withdrawals are unlikely due to the threat of the P3 alliance and expansion of the G6 alliance," Drewry added, explaining competitors are "forced to
hesitate before embarking on any fleet reduction program that could
jeopardize market share before the second/third quarter of 2014."