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Adjusting to counter swings

The near chaos in the supply chain brought about by the pandemic has plunged the shipping industry into a totally new order of things far removed from the sector’s normal economic cycles.

Worldwide port congestion, at a level and extent hitherto unseen, is prompting new types of behaviour at every step along the transport chain. An erratic market, combined with supply and demand antics, has resulted in a shortage of vessels, with a knock-on effects that has meant a heyday for non-operator owners. Charter prices have gone through the roof, with some reaching a historical high of US$200,000 per day.

This dizzying increase has led to a record number of transactions and behaviour that threatens to upset the balance between charter and ownership. To protect itself from these swings, Marfret has always managed to include the right measure of each.

There is a temptation today to give in to the siren call of the highest bidder, either by increasing charter rates to astronomical amounts or selling off ships at indecent prices. Concepts such as “my word is my bond” and a handshake to seal a deal have all been consigned to the dustbin!

Marfret’s MedCar line was a recent victim of these practices, with a shipowner bidding top money to acquire the Skiathos, which we had had on charter for the past two years. In order to protect our capacities on this trade, we immediately responded by chartering the Konrad.

With the issue of balance in mind, Marfret has redoubled its efforts in terms of fleet strategy. Just prior to the steep rise in vessel prices, we acquired the container ship Marius (formerly Nordmaple), operated on our NASP line, bringing the number of our vessels in ownership to eight.

Today, almost all the Group’s lines are operated in ownership. By the end of this year, the MedCar will no longer be the exception, with the Konrad being replaced by the Durande, which is returning to operations on the line exactly 10 years after it left. A new horizon has appeared, with a strong market in view until at least 2023. The time for Marfret as shipowner is ripe, with the promise of new opportunities, new markets and new lines.

Guillaume VIDIL