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Almost all ultra-large box tonnage sailing round Cape of Good Hope

Vessel-tracking images captured by Lloyd’s List Intelligence show extent of Red Sea exodus

Migration of ultra-large containerships south to avoid the Bab el Mandeb strait has led to a complete rerouting of Asia-Europe trade over the past month

ULTRA-LARGE box tonnage serving the Asia-Europe trade route is now sailing almost exclusively round the Cape of Good Hope in response to Houthi attacks in the Red Sea.

Data from Lloyd’s List Intelligence show Suez Canal transits by ultra-large containerships have also slowed to a mere trickle amid the exodus, which, in turn, has led to almost a complete rerouting of trade in little over a month.

A snapshot of vessel movements captured by Lloyd’s List Intelligence today lays bare the dramatic shift in trade patterns that has emerged, highlighting the notable absence of ULCs, the predominant workhorses on the trunk east-west route, in the Red Sea and the convoy of vessels looping south round Africa.

This is in stark contrast to vessel movements captured in early December last year, when trade conditions were still relatively normal, with ULCs still dotted along the Red Sea route before embarking on their mass migration south.



Today, only a handful of smaller, regional carriers are running the Red Sea gauntlet, and only CMA CGM among major box lines is still regularly sailing via the Suez Canal on its east-west services. 

Over the past week, only six boxships with a capacity of more than 14,500 teu have made the Red Sea, including four vessels owned by CMA CGM: CMA CGM Greenland (IMO: 9895006), CMA CGM Champs Elysees (IMO: 9839131), CMA CGM Antoine de Saint Exupery (IMO: 9776418) and CMA CGM Apollon (IMO: 9882516). The French carrier has continued to sail with a limited number of ships through the Red Sea, aided by military support through the Bab el Mandeb strait.

The other two ULCs that have traversed the Red Sea over the past seven days comprise Chinese tonnage, the Hong Kong-flagged pairing of CSCL Uranus (IMO: 9467304) and Cosco Shipping Kilimanjaro (IMO: 9757852).

Last week, Lloyd’s List reported how despite a significant fall in container shipping activity in the Red Sea, the number of China-owned ships sailing through the region has steadily risen over the past month. China has routinely lent military support to its vessels in the Red Sea and Somali basin and is thought to be using their continued presence to ward off Houthi attacks, Lloyd’s List reported today.





Only six ULCs have journeyed through the Suez over the past seven days. Normally in the second week of November, Lloyd’s List Intelligence data shows as many as 32 ships with a capacity of more than 14,500 teu moving through the east-west artery.

Since the turn of the year, the weekly average of ships boasting a capacity of more than 14,500 teu transiting the Egyptian waterway has slumped to just five, compared with more than 30 through November last year.

This trend is apparent for all post-panamax-class vessels, or above 4,500 teu. However, transits recorded for smaller units remain relatively unchanged during the same period, according to Lloyd’s List Intelligence Suez passings data.



Risk factor

Although CMA CGM is still the only big player of note still firmly active in the region, the ongoing risk has resulted in the French carrier pulling back capacity on the route in recent days. On Friday, CMA CGM announced plans to reroute its Australian “Nemo” loop via the Cape of Good Hope to avoid the Red Sea.

In addition to rerouting around Africa, carriers have also looked to rejig port calls and service offerings to serve regional markets accessed via the Red Sea avoiding the Bab el Mandeb strait and the Houthi presence.

Earlier this week, Hapag-Lloyd announced a ploy to adopt a land-routing to connect Saudi Arabia’s Red Sea hub Jeddah with ports in the north of the country, namely Dammam and Jubail, as well as Jebel Ali, Dubai, in the UAE.

Maersk, having rerouted all its ships from the Bab el Mandeb strait, has also continued to limit exposure to the region removing calls in Djibouti, Somalia and Yemen, while restructuring other Middle East and Mediterranean loops to reinstate its regional coverage. 

In a further announcement today, the Danish carrier also unveiled that it will deploy an additional four services from next month: Gulf Service, Arabian Red Sea, Red Sea West Mediterranean and Red Sea West Mediterranean.

The latter two will connect the Mediterranean with the Saudi Red Sea hub of Jeddah via Egypt’s Port Said at the north of the Suez, while Maersk’s other new services will provide intra-west coast Asia, as it continues to address the operational challenges arising from the situation in the Gulf of Aden.

Additional reporting by Bridget Diakun


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