CMA CGM has signed a letter of intent (LOI) at Hyundai Heavy Industries for six 8,000-teu LNG dual-fuelled container ship newbuildings said to be worth $720m.

Newbuilding brokers priced the vessels at about $120m each.

The company, which pioneered the adoption of LNG fuelling for the boxship sector, ordered four dual-fuel 7,400-teu vessels at HHI’s rival Samsung Heavy Industries in March. The deal included an option for three additional ships.

According to the yard’s announcement on the four firm newbuildings, which are due to start delivering from 2024, the boxships were priced at around $123m each.

In addition, CMA CGM chartered three LNG dual-fuel 7,900-teu newbuildings from Singapore’s Eastern Pacific Shipping.

The vessels have been fixed for at least eight years.

The CMA CGM Group said: “We do not comment on market rumours.”

There has been something of a recent rush on 7,000-teu to 8,000-teu container ships. More than 100 vessels of this size have been contracted by companies that include Mediterranean Shipping Co, Seaspan Corp, TS Lines, X-Press Feeders Group and Danaos Shipping.

Shipyards described how liner companies have been making their way through the size ranges on boxships, working down from ultra-large container ships, through to neo-panamax vessels, on to feeder ships, before this latest order surge for what are alternatively called “compact neo-panamax” or “traditional panamax” ships.

In March, CMA CGM moved back up the size range to where it came in with its first LNG-fuelled orders, lining up slots with an LOI for nine 23,000-teu, dual-fuel ULCs at Chinese state-owned Jiangnan Shipyard.

In the same month, the French liner company reported a tenfold increase in full-year net income to $17.9bn in 2021. on the back of strong demand conditions.

CMA CGM said at the time that it plans to allocate nearly $9bn to enhance its portfolio of assets, including owned and chartered containers and vessels, excluding acquisitions.

Shipyard chiefs and newbuilding brokers said that despite the huge haul of container ship newbuildings that have been contracted over the past two years, the liner companies may yet have a substantial appetite for more orders.

One senior yard official said liner companies are still making money, which they are likely to splash on fleet replacement, both for ageing vessels and upgrading tonnage with outdated technology.

A broker described what the market has seen so far on boxship newbuildings as “the tip of the iceberg”, with another wave of ordering expected.

But shipyard bosses warned that prices are rising across all shipping sectors and early delivery positions are scarce.

One such source said any companies returning to yards for large tanker tonnage — a natural competitor for berths with boxships — will be in for “a surprise”.