The charter owners’ container fleet is not growing as fast as the operator owners’ fleet. At forty per cent, the charter owners’ share of the fleet is now at its lowest point since 2002, according to BIMCO in its latest Shipping number of the week.

‘The charter owners’ container fleet has grown at an average annual rate of 3.2 per cent for the past twelve years and currently stands at 11.7 million TEU,’ explains Niels Rasmussen, chief shipping analyst at BIMCO. ‘The operator owners’ fleet has, however, grown faster, so the charter owners’ fleet now makes up only forty per cent of total container fleet capacity, down from fifty per cent in 2012.’

The charter owners’ share of the container fleet has fallen every year during the past twelve years, but a third of the ten percentage point fall in share occurred during the past three years. The last time the charter owners’ share of the fleet was this low was in 2002.

Charter owners' container fleet by BIMCO
Supplied by BIMCO.

The charter owners’ share peaked at fifty per cent of the container fleet between 2009 and 2012. This peak coincided with the peak of the German KGs that helped fuel the increase in the charter owners’ fleet during the 2000s.

‘Today, the twenty largest charter owners control about 65 per cent of the charter fleet. Four German owners remain in the top twenty list but no longer dominate it. More recent additions to the top twenty list are several Chinese leasing companies,’ says Rasmussen.

Also read: BIMCO: Demand shocks slash ship recycling

Short-term charters drop

The share of the fleet fixed on short period charter contracts (less than three years) has also fallen along with the charter owners’ share of the fleet.

Nearly forty per cent of the capacity of the charter owners’ fleet is made of ships larger than 12,000 TEU. These ships are generally fixed on long-term charters prior to delivery and few, if any, have made it into the short-term charter market.

Accordingly, a maximum of 25 per cent of the total fleet’s capacity is currently available for short-term charters. The actual percentage is less as some smaller ships are also fixed on long-term charter contracts.

Also read: 13% of seaborne trade under attack from Houthis and Somali pirates

Reduced flexibility

The reduction in the charter fleet’s share of the total fleet’s capacity and the smaller share available for short-term fixtures have reduced operators’ flexibility to quickly adjust their operating fleet up- or downwards.

That flexibility is currently further limited as the very strong charter market during the Covid pandemic meant that more ships were chartered for longer periods, with some of those charter contracts yet to expire.

‘In the coming years, the charter fleet’s share of the total container fleet will continue to fall. Charter owners’ order books have fallen from 3.4 million TEU to just 1.0 million TEU in only two years. It is now only sixteen per cent of the total order book and the operators’ fleet will therefore grow faster,’ concludes Rasmussen.

Also read: Container ship deliveries hit new YTD record of 1m TEU