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Maersk and MSC overcharging cargo owners for EU ETS, says T&E

Green group claims Maersk, MSC, CMA CGM and Hapag-Lloyd likely to make windfall profits from ETS surcharges

Lobby group Transport & Environment estimates annual ETS profits for certain boxships will be more than $1m, as ETS surcharges are likely to outstrip some shipping companies’ actual ETS costs

FOUR major liners including Maersk and Mediterranean Shipping Company are likely to make significant windfall profits by overcharging cargo owners for EU Emissions Trading System costs, according to a Transport & Environment analysis.

Profits from ETS surcharges are likely to outstrip these shipping companies’ actual ETS costs, T&E found after analysing 560 single journeys by 20 vessels each operated by Maersk, Hapag-LloydCMA CGM and MSC.

T&E said its ETS profit estimates were conservative since they were based on carriers’ assumed ETS carbon tax cost of €90 per tonne of CO2, while actual ETS prices dropped to as low as €52 at the end of February before rebounding to €65 on March 25.

These companies will have likely locked in ETS prices at much lower levels than €80-90, as they have extensive research teams observing ETS markets, said Jacob Armstrong, sustainable shipping manager at T&E.

Maersk said T&E’s analysis relied on outdated surcharge estimates for its selected trade routes, adding that higher ETS price estimates resulted in higher costs, according to an emailed statement.

Maersk added that it did not use a €90 ETS price in its surcharge calculations. The company’s website showed it is using €81.54 for the first quarter.

Hapag-Lloyd. CMA CGM and MSC were also approached for comment.

T&E said liners’ ETS profits per journey would rise by 40% assuming an ETS price of €53 instead of €90 if the surcharges remained the same.

“While carriers may argue that these costs will be distributed across different routes and through their whole fleet, our results demonstrate that loss-making ships and routes are only a small minority of each company’s fleet,” T&E said.

T&E said at least two containerships would make more than €1m in ETS profits annually: Elly Maersk (IMO: 9321536)  at €1.8m and Benedikt (IMO: 9327578)  would bring in €1.4m.

“The economies of scale with which shipping operates enable this type of cost pass-through; consumers would pay negligible amounts for final products while shipping companies increase their margins,” T&E said.

T&E said that fears around EU ports losing traffic because of the ETS were unfounded, arguing that carriers would have reason to call at EU ports to make surcharge profits.

Liners introduced ETS surcharges per teu to reflect the cost increase on to their customers when the ETS came into force for shipping emissions at the beginning of 2024. Maersk charges €23 per dry teu on the east Asia to north Europe route, while MSC, CMA CGM and Hapag-Lloyd charge €21, €25 and €12, respectively. The companies will review these surcharges on a quarterly basis.

The EU ETS entered into force at the start of the year with a three-year, phase-in period, meaning cargo and passenger vessels of 5,000 gt or above will pay for 40% of emissions on voyages that include an EU or EEA port call this year, rising to 70% and 100% in 2025 and 2026, respectively.

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