The Singaporean carrier APL today confirmed that it will dispose of four of its 1988-built C-10 types overpanamax ships in a few months’ time. The vessels are believed to phase-out of their trade in June or July to be sold for recycling.
The 4,530 teu ships were built in Germany at Bremer Vulkan of Bremen, and at HDW Howaldswerke Deutsche Werft of Kiel under the names PRESIDENT ADAMS, PRESIDENT JACKSON, PRESIDENT TRUMAN and PRESIDENT POLK. At the time of their launch, the ships were among the largest container vessels ever built.
All four of the ships fly the US flag and all four trade in APL’s Singapore-Middle East – ECSA service Suez Express. This service presently offers weekly departures with a fleet of nine US-flagged vessels, which allows APL to carry special cargoes, such as for example US military supplies. It remains to be seen whether APL will replace the to-be-scrapped ships with vessels under different flags and scale-down the US-flag offer on the ‘Suez Express’ to fortnightly, or whether the carrier will re-register the replacement ships under the stars and stripes banner. So far, the latter of the two options seems very unlikely though.
The US-flag trade has come under pressure in recent years, as a consequence of the depressed economy in general and the wind-down of the US military presence in both Iraq and Afghanistan in particular.
However, other factors might come into play as well and increase competition for specialised cargoes might also be a factor: Only very recently, Linervision revealed that Maersk Line is to transfer no fewer than eight of its 6,500 teu MAERSK KOWLOON class ships to the US-flag in order to boost the capacity of its Middle East to USEC service ‘MECL1’, where the ships are to replace panamax units of about 4,800 teu.
Just like APL’s Suez Express, Maersk Line’s ‘MECL1’ connects the Middle East to the USEC and offers transport under the USA banner. Thus is it worth noting that one of the services scales down its US-flag offer, whereas the other one expands it.
APL’s announcement is also noteworthy from another point of view: With the deterioration of market conditions, continuing vessel oversupply and the increasing age of larger ships, it seems that the ship recycling wave is slowly starting to reach overpanamax ships.
So far, only three overpanamax containerships have been scrapped. These are the 4,469 teu BUNGA PELANGI DUA (1994-2012), the 4,651 teu HYUNDAI ADMIRAL (1992-2009) and her sister HYUNDAI BARON (1992-2010). With numerous nineties-built panamaxes already scrapped, it now seems only a matter of time until the first generation of overpanamax ships will be disposed of.