2M suspends USEC service as rates, volumes drop near year’s end

Mediterranean Shipping Co. (MSC) and Maersk are halting a trans-Pacific US East Coast service after freight rates have been cut by more than half from the summer peak.

MSC and Maersk, partners in the 2M Alliance, said in separate statements this week that they will temporarily suspend their jointly run Liberty/TP23 service until further notice, adding that the suspension “will help alleviate port congestion.” The last sailing will be Nov. 23 from Indonesia. Liberty/TP23, which was introduced in March 2021, offers service from Indonesia, Vietnam and China to the US ports of Charleston, Savannah, and New York-New Jersey with a string of ships in the 8,000 TEU range.

The service suspension comes as rates into the US East Coast see further weakening as the end of 2022 nears. After dropping about 25 percent from October, average US East Coast freight rates now sit at $4,500 per FEU, with bookings done as low as $3,700, according to a trans-Pacific forwarder who asked not to be identified. That is down 55 percent from levels seen in June, the forwarder added.

“Ocean carriers are cutting rates and voiding sailings left, right, and center,” the source said.

With rates returning to pre-pandemic levels, ship supply to the US East Coast appears too high to offset rate declines. Sea-Intelligence Maritime Analysis said in its most recent Sunday Spotlight newsletter that November vessel capacity into the USEC is 19.5 percent above the level seen in November 2019, with December capacity running even higher at 37.7 percent above the same month in 2019.

Meanwhile, more service changes could be coming. MSC’s standalone Santana service, which was shifted from a West Coast to an East Coast service last year, is reportedly moving to every three weeks instead of a weekly service, according to a maritime shipping source who did not want to be identified. The service change could not be independently verified.

Some of the slowdown in container activity is showing up in the most recently available cargo figures for New York-New Jersey. Although New York-New Jersey has been the busiest US port for three consecutive months, the October volume of 792,548 TEU was essentially flat with the year-ago month. In a statement to JOC.com, the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey said it forecasts full-year 2022 volume to be about 9 million TEU, which would be up only nominally from 2021.