The United Arab Shipping Company is said to have chosen South Korea’s Hyundai Heavy Industries to place orders for up to 17 ultra-large neo-overpanamax container vessels for delivery from early 2015. While the deal has yet to be officialised, it could be worth a total of up to USD 2 billion.
UASC’s will order up to six ships of 18,400 teu and up to 11 ships of 14,000 teu. The mega order comes in a week that sees a literal order frenzy for large container vessels – an indicator that ship owners believe newbuilding prices have finally bottomed out.
The 18,400 teu ships, for which UASC is to place five firm orders and one option, are earmarked to run alongside a fleet of similarly-sized ships that CSCL recently ordered at Hyundai Heavy. The two carriers had increased their level of cooperation in the recent past and it was known at the time of CSCL’s order, that the carriers foray into the 18,000 teu super jumbo league was part of an orchestrated move alongside UASC. In a few years, the two carriers will between them deploy a fleet of ten – or eleven if UASC converts its single-ship option – ultra-large next-generation vessels. The ships are to trade alongside each other in a joint weekly Far East to Europe service that will apparently be designed to turn around in ten or eleven weeks.
Unlike Maersk Line, which went for a twin-engine, twin-skeg, twin-propeller design for its triple-E ships, UASC is believed to order a more conventional single-engine ship type, just as CSCL did. Since both CSCL and UASC have chosen Hyundai for their coordinated orders, it is highly likely that the two carrier’s new jumbo ships will be more or less identical in design. The price per vessel has not been disclosed but it is estimated at USD 140 million to USD 145 million per ship.
Further to the 18,400 teu ships, UASC is to sign orders for up to 11 vessels of 14,000 teu. The carrier and Hyundai are said to have reached an agreement that will see UASC place five firm orders and sign options for six more ships. If all 11 ships are actually built, they could staff a mainline standalone Asia-Europe loop of USAC. If the options are not taken, the five ships might well end up trading in a joint service with a partner carrier or even join services outside the Far East to Europe trunk route, such as Middle-East Gulf related operations.
Again, no prices have been disclosed, but 14,000 teu newbuildings would presently cost between USD 110 million and USD 120 million, depending on yard and vessel specifications.
Some time ago, it was reported that UASC had launched an investigation into the feasibility of new propulsion concepts, such as dual fuel main engines or container ships powered by natural gas which would be bunkered and stored aboard in liquid form. While neither of the two vessel types’ specifications have been disclosed yet, it very much looks like these options have been discarded and UASC is believed to have followed down the conventional road alongside its industry peers.