HIGHER container spot rates from Asia to Europe and to the US have prompted ocean liners to switch their focus to securing as much cargo as possible in the runup to the Chinese Lunar New Year (CNY) celebrations.
However, the lines' strategy could mean significant delays in the supply chain as shippers suffer container rollovers.
With the majority of headhaul ships fully booked ahead of the factory closures when the week-long holiday begins on January 25, carriers are planning to roll some 'non-premium' cargo into the soft demand holiday period as base traffic for sailings that have not been voided.
Moreover, UK's The Loadstar reported that it has heard of discounts being offered to shippers for February voyages, although there is no evidence so far of any significant rate slashing on European or transpacific routes.
"They think that, with their blanking programmes and the rollovers, they will get through a downturn in demand, and we are finding that they are sticking to their guns on rates," one unnamed UK forwarder told The Loadstar.
Flexport EMEA head of ocean freight Martin Holst-Mikkelsen commented: "Carriers remain very disciplined on capacity management across all alliances, which is likely to support a slower rate erosion in February and March."
He noted that February would see an overall capacity dip of 25 per cent on the Asia-North Europe trade with all the alliances having announced void headhaul sailings in March - some even extending blanking programmes into April.
According to Alphaliner data, 95 ships with a total capacity of 925,000 TEU, or 70 per cent of inactive containership fleet, are either at shipyards or waiting for scrubbers to be fitted.