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2M partners Maersk Line and MSC have advised their Asia-Europe and transpacific customers of a number of blanked headhaul sailings next month, during the traditional Chinese New Year soft demand period.

The Chinese Year of the Pig commences on 5 February and the 2M will cancel two sailings to North Europe in weeks six, seven and eight, along with one voyage to the Mediterranean.

Between Asia and the US, Maersk and MSC will void two loops to the west coast and one sailing to the US east coast the same weeks.

The cancelled sailings from Asia to North Europe include the AE2/Swan loop to Rotterdam and Felixstowe on weeks seven and eight, which was only reinstated in early December after being temporarily suspended at the end of September ahead of the Chinese Golden Week factory closures.

At that time, the withdrawal of the 11 18,300-20,600 teu ULCVs from the trade, rather than blanking sailings, was seen as a “structural solution in line with lower seasonal market demand” by Maersk Line’s chief operating officer, Soren Toft.

But the temporary capacity reduction ‘white knight’ gesture by the 2M alliance was not reciprocated by the members of the Ocean and THE alliances which continued their strategy of withdrawing sailings and advising shippers in some cases on a “need to know” basis.

And, according to market reports, the conflicting statements of the timing for the reactivation of the loop resulted in a loss of market share to rival carriers – in particular Cosco and CMA CGM.

An MSC insider told The Loadstar the carrier “had no intention of making the same mistake” and would revert to using the normal capacity management tool of blanking sailings.

It is understood that MSC pushed for an earlier-than-planned reinstatement of the AE2/Swan service and was rewarded with full ships during December. Moreover, despite the introduction of extra capacity, container spot rates on the trade ended the year in a bullish mood, leaping by 14% in the final week to $966 per teu.

Notwithstanding the loss of market share on the trade, Maersk Line in particular was able to take advantage of the pre-US duty tariff hike cargo boom on imports from China to deploy the bigger ULCVs on the transpacific for two round trips before resuming their service on the North Europe route.

Ultimately, the imposition of a 25% duty on the import of some 5,700 Chinese products was postponed until 2 March to allow trade issues between the two nations to be resolved.

Shippers will be looking for indications from the current negotiations in Beijing to determine their forward cargo planning.

The 2M have decided to blank the transpacific voyages without waiting to hear the result of the trade negotiations. Both carriers have reassured their customers that their alternative sailings between Asia and Europe and Asia and the US will allow shippers to continue to make bookings “with limited disruption to your cargo flow”.

Maersk and MSC have also cautioned exporters to Asia from Europe and the US that the blanked westbound sailings in February will result in cancelled backhaul voyages in March and April.

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