port of Rotterdam
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Faster transit times and improved reliability will be the key battlegrounds for alliances on the Asia-Europe trades when the four groupings become three next April.

According to Drewry, last week’s Asia-North Europe network redesign by 2M partners MSC and Maersk was focused on these two key elements.

“The reductions in transit times were not huge, but it is clear that shippers can expect to see carriers and alliances putting speed and reliability at the forefront of their sales pitches,” it said.

It added that it was likely that “the other two alliance groups will design their own networks to be competitive with 2M”.

And in what appears to be a pre-emptive shot across the 2M bows, THE Alliance members have already said shippers can look forward to “very attractive transit times” next year.

Maersk and MSC emphasised that its transit times from Asia to Bremerhaven and Rotterdam would be improved by up to four days once the recent changes took effect. However, instead of increasing vessel speeds, which Drewry said was an “unattractive cost proposition”, the 2M partners opted to reduce the number of direct calls to gain time in the revised schedules.

As a consequence, Asian ports will see the number of weekly westbound calls reduce, with all but one of the direct Japanese ports culled, Drewry noted.

The consultant suggested it was “perhaps an admission” that the 2M partners do not expect to be able to compete in the Japanese market, given that the three Japanese carriers, K Line, MOL and NYK, will all be within THE Alliance grouping.

However, they all have to work through contractual periods within their current G6, Ocean 3 and CKYHE alliances, respectively, and can only watch as the 2M partners press ahead in developing strategy.

Maersk and MSC are using this limbo period to their commercial advantage, reminding shippers that its 10-year alliance agreement is in contrast to the current shakeup among the competition.

Meanwhile, terminals and other service providers will need to analyse the revised 2M schedules for any impact on their business. For example, weekly calls at Rotterdam drops from five to four, while Felixstowe gains a call to five, from four.

However, according to a press release from Rotterdam Port Authority, the new 2M schedule represents “excellent news” for the Dutch hub.

“The changes have proven very much to Rotterdam’s advantage,” it claimed, explaining that because of the port’s position in the itineraries of the largest ships, it expected a “substantial increase in 2M container volumes in the period ahead”.

Feeder operators will also need to assess the impact of the new 2M schedules, but as a general rule with fewer direct calls, the potential demand for feeder services grows.

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