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Slow steaming has at the end of May 2010 absorbed 100 ships totalling 580,000 TEU, or 4.1 % of the world’s cellular fleet, according to the Shipping Gazette, citing the Paris-based Alphaliner agency.

Twelve months ago, slow steaming could only be said to have given five ships employment, aggregating 46,000 TEU, said the maritime agency which tracks containership employment worldwide.

Alphaliner records also show that 98 strings are operated on extra slow steaming. Of these, 38 are on the Far East-Europe sector while 36 are transpacific. On the Far East-north Europe route, 26 out of 28 services are currently in extra slow steaming mode.

Some operators deployed slow steaming only on the Europe-Asia back haul via Cape Town to save fuel costs and Suez Canal fees, but the impact of slow steaming has since grown to be much more important, said Alphaliner.

Extra slower speeds have become the norm on the Asia-Europe where 78% of strings have slowed and 53 % on the transpacific. Ships in these trades run at 17-19 knots, down from 20-22 knots. A Europe-Asia loop can be run at 21 knots in the westbound direction and at 15 knots eastbound, averaging 18 knots.

But recent fuel price declines may well discourage further carrier involvement. Moreover, shippers do not regard slower cargo movement with the same equanimity carriers do. “But as long as fuel oil prices remain above US$400 per ton, the services currently in extra slow steaming is likely to stay,” said Alphaliner.

Transpacific newcomer, The Containership Company (TCC), has adopted slow steaming on its Taicang-Los Angeles shuttle. The TCC service deploys five ships running sailing at 15-16 knots. If this running speed was increased to 19 knots, the service could be run with only four ships.

TCC has chosen to take advantage of low charter rates and realises fuel cost savings by maintaining the service at these slower speeds, the report said.

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