Paddling Up A Storm

“Containerships now slower than sailing ships”. That was the opening line in an article by Katerina Kerr in a report from Dynamar.

The report, “Slow Steaming – A Transient Fashion, or Here to Stay?”, talked about the industry’s bogus claims that slow-steaming saves money, reduces emissions levels, etc., etc., but was quick to point out the negative effects on service quality and reliability.

By mid-2010, the report revealed, 50% of the active containership fleet – 35% of the value of global trade – was traveling slower than before the economic downturn. Ocean carriers, it turns out, have implemented slow-steaming initiatives on more than 80 services, deploying an extra 120 vessels.

Based on a study of services running at 25 knots and 15 knots and carrying similar pay loads, the report cited carriers’ claims that slow-steaming can lead to substantial savings. Shippers, meanwhile, were experiencing declining service levels and disruption to their supply chains.

“Slow-steaming is an operational strategy that is helping us make further gains in schedule reliability and environmental performance,” said a Maersk official – with his fingers crossed, no doubt.

According to the report, however, “… going slow and using extra ships has done little to substantially improve integrity, although this is a promise made by many carriers.”

In a pointed criticism of slow-steaming strategies, DHL CEO Richard Owens stated earlier this year that reduced speeds and the failure of carriers to stick to port schedules was forcing shippers like him to rethink their supply chains. He said that in many industries, liability clauses for late deliveries were being written because of the poor performances by carriers on key trades.

Meanwhile, Maersk Line has told its customers that, notwithstanding a recovery in the global economy, slow-steaming is here to stay. –

How’s that for spinnage? The truth of the matter is that, in spite of the early warnings given by folks like Conrad Everhard, Neil Davidson and Tommy Stramer, carriers, refusing to believe that there could ever be an end to their glory days, ordered leviathans by the hundreds. “Economies of scale”, they insisted. But when the world economy collapsed and there was nothing to ship but air, those same leviathans had to be laid up in faraway places like Singapore, Subic Bay and Rotterdam.

Then there was another rude awakening – lay ups were costing a lot more than owners anticipated. But there was a way around that. By slowing down the new, speedy and expensive newbuilds, large numbers of laid up vessels could be squeezed back into service. It was the lesser of two evils, and besides, along with cutting losses, shippers and consumers could be made to share in the misery.

[“Slow-steaming is here to stay?” Is that why ships being ordered are designed for 25-knot speeds?]