Supersized container ships leading to overcapacity


TOKYO — International competition for the chartering of large container vessels has forced shipping companies to slash rates.

“Container rates on the Asia-Europe ocean route have fallen below an in-house break-even point for mooring ships,” lamented an executive at one of the top three Japanese shipping companies — Nippon Yusen, Mitsui O.S.K. and Kawasaki Kisen.

      The break-even point is the point at which shipping companies decide to dock vessels to minimize losses when rates drop sharply.

Current spot rates for container ships are about $350 per standard 20-foot container on the Asia-Europe route, much lower than $1,400 to $1,500 seen as the minimal level for profitable operations.

Container ships carry a variety of goods, especially those related to personal consumption such as furniture, home appliances, clothing and automobiles, but shipping companies are now caught in the growing uncertainties of the global economic slowdown.

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