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Do Maersk Line and MSC have their own Plan B?

Of all the scenarios outlined since the collapse of the P3 alliance last week, there is one that is particular persistent: A strengthened collaboration between Maersk Line and MSC. This would make sense, says SeaIntel.

Photo: Maersk Line

Maersk Line and MSC were allegedly the ones who initiated the formation of the P3 alliance in the spring of 2013, and the ones - the two largest container carriers in the world - who later brought French CMA CGM on board as well.

Together the two major carriers have a global market share of around 30 percent, so the Danish and Swiss carriers are without comparison the biggest players on the global scene. The rest, including CMA CGM, are medium-big or smaller container carriers who, especially due to the collaborations and alliances they participate in, hold significant leverage in the market.

With their rejection of the operational collaboration between the P3 carriers the Chinese set a limit on how closely the container industry can bond. The reasoning goes that new alliances stretching beyond the VSA collaborations that currently exist between carriers will not see the light of day anytime soon.

More VSA's

Maersk Line has already announced that the VSA's - vessel sharing agreements, where carriers buy slots on each other's vessels - could be one scenario the carrier is looking at in the big toolbox, as the company put it. CMA CGM has said in a brief statement that things will continue as before, and MSC, known as the carrier that never publishes its results, has made no comments on the fall of the P3 alliance at all.

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The P3 alliance seemed to make a lot of sense for Maersk Line and MSC in differing ways depending on the carrier. Maersk Line would gain access to MSC's fleet of fairly large ships, whereas MSC would gain access to Maersk Line's intricate network. As such, the two carriers had an obvious interest in the alliance, especially on Asia-Europe, estimates say.

Aponte versus Sadee

As previously reported by ShippingWatch, CMA CGM, which is headed by the French Sadee family, had in fact also been flirting with its two partners on Asia-Europe - UASC and China Shipping - prior to or alongside the negotiations with the other P3 partners. This is another reason why several observers believe that Maersk Line and MSC might be plotting to turn P3 into P2, thus cutting CMA CGM completely out of the equation. There have allegedly been meetings between the two carriers following the collapse of P3. It is a well-known fact in shipping circles that the two shipowning families, Aponte and Sadee, do not necessarily harbor the warmest feelings for each other, and that this has given Maersk Line's representative Vincent Clerc a special role to play between the two families.

Estimates from people with intimate knowledge of the industry say that a strengthened collaboration between Maersk Line and MSC would focus on Asia-Europe. Partner and CEO of SeaIntel, Lars Jensen, estimates that a stronger VSA collaboration "certainly makes sense." But not everyone agrees on this. Others believe that the three carriers might stick to the idea of a closer collaboration, albeit in a more regional form.

The Chinese rejection

In any case, the Chinese rejection has taken a toll on the Maersk headquarters at Esplanaden in Copenhagen, where the carrier and Danish shipping in general enjoys a special status. But following Tom Behrens-Sørensen's departure from the carrier five years ago Maersk has - according to observers - had a hard time maintaining the solid contacts he had established throughout the years.

Maersk Line declines to comment to ShippingWatch about whether the carrier is discussing future opportunities with MSC.

Is China trying to protect its own shipping industry?

P3 fought hard to convince the Chinese

Maersk Line turns the clock back one year

SeaIntel: P3 rejection hurts consolidation

China rejects P3 alliance 

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