Shipping Alliances

The world’s top three shipping lines are, in order, Maersk (Denmark’s second largest company after Lego), MSC (a privately-held Italian firm), and CMA CGM (a French firm).  Some time ago, they decided that they were going to start up an alliance, P3, that would have allowed them to share vessels, thus streamlining which ports they would travel to and through what routes.  Bloomberg reported,

The companies had planned to commit 255 vessels deployed on 29 trade loops to a joint center that would have run a combined fleet independently. Maersk was slated to contribute 42 percent of the total, including its Triple-E class, the largest-ever container ships with a capacity of 18,000 boxes.

Although the US and EU regulators seemed to be fine with what in effect was going to be a kind of cartelisation-lite, the Chinese put the kibosh on it.  They apparently felt that the

“closely coordinated joint operations” proposed in P3 would also have been substantially different from the “loose cooperation” of current alliances, the ministry said. The two main existing accords are G6, which includes Germany’s Hapag-Lloyd AG and five Asian carriers, and CKYHE, which features Cosco Container Lines Co., the Chinese No. 1.

Now, however, it looks like the alliance has become 2M (Maersk and MSC), but the Chinese are still concerned about the alliance in effect moving one-third of the world’s cargo around the globe. Meanwhile, CMA CGM is making an alliance with the Gulf-based UASC (United Arab Shipping Company) and the Chinese CSCL (Chinese Shipping Container Line) [as an aside, I am really hoping this agreement doesn’t affect my trip in January].

This is interesting to me for several reasons.  First, of course all shipping is now dead fascinating to me, because of my interest, but that CMA has entered a deal with a Chinese firm AND an Arab firm (the first not surprising, the second much more interesting) is pretty fascinating.

Second, UASC is an interesting company itself, and its history traces some of the shifts in the Gulf transport: originally headquartered in Kuwait, it has now shifted its centre of gravity to Dubai.

Third, this alliance will of course affect the routes of ships, and therefore the traffic (and fees) destined for the ports of the Arabian Peninsula. Currently, the Middle East’s biggest container ports are Jebel Ali (ranked 9th in the world and operated by DP World); Jeddah (at no. 30 and its terminals operated by Gulftainer and DP World); Khor Fakkan (at 35 and operated by Gulftainer); Port Said (at 37 and operated by Suez Canal Container Terminal the majoruty of whose shares are held by the Maersk-owned but independentAPM Terminals; and thereafter by Chinese COSCO, the Suez Canal Co, Egyptian National Bank and private investors); and Salalah (at 39 and operated by APM Terminals).  Something to follow in the time to come.

Fourthly (and somewhat tangentially), CMA is itself owned by a Lebanese-born, LSE-educated, Marseille-based guy named Jacques Saade.  Saade seems to have become interested in container shipping when he was doing an internship in the US and saw the US military use containers for transport.

Update: So, Lego isn’t the biggest company in Denmark.  AP Moller-Maersk is: