Falling container freight rates have failed to dampen the appetite of liner giant MSC Mediterranean Shipping Company for newbuildings, according to shipbuilding sources.

The world’s largest liner operator — which has 66 container ships under construction in South Korea and China, excluding chartered newbuildings — is said to have ordered 10 LNG dual-fuelled neo-panamaxes at a Chinese shipyard.

The sources added that the Gianluigi Aponte-controlled company had contracted Zhoushan Changhong International Shipyard to build the 11,400-teu vessels for delivery in 2025 and 2026.

Sources said MSC and Zhoushan Changhong inked the contract last month, but the deal went unreported. The two companies are awaiting bank refund guarantees for newbuildings and the deal will become effective once they are in place.

The MSC contract gives Zhoushan Changhong its first LNG dual-fuelled boxships deal. They will also be the largest container vessels that the Chinese shipyard has constructed.

Considered a boxship specialist, Changhong has largely built feeder ships to date. But in the second half of 2021, it was contracted by Angeliki Frangou-led Navios Maritime Partners to construct 10 units of 5,600 teu each. The panamax vessels will be powered by conventional marine fuel and are scheduled to be delivered between September this year and December 2024.

Shipbuilding sources said MSC is paying just shy of $120m per ship. They will be installed with type-B LNG tanks.

Brokers described the price as “firm” despite falling charter rates for container ships.

“This [strong price] could be due to the early delivery slots for the vessels,” one broker said.

MSC has been aggressively expanding its fleet in the past two years by ordering newbuildings, buying secondhand vessels and chartering ships. The company is estimated to have added more than 260 vessels to its fleet.

Earlier this month, MSC was reported to be the buyer of the 2,842-teu MSC Carpathia III (ex-Carpathia, built 2003) — one of two vessels sold in December by Germany’s MPC Container Ships.

It also reportedly purchased the 4,294-teu Northern General (built 2008) from V.Ships Hamburg and the 2,478-teu Buxcontact (built 2002) from German ship manager NSB Group.

Alphaliner estimates that MSC has bought 263 secondhand vessels totalling 1m teu since August 2020 worth close to $10bn. On the newbuilding front, Linerlytica reported that MSC has 146 newbuildings on its orderbook including chartered vessels.

Zhoushan Changhong International Shipyard has joined the league of yards building large LNG dual-fuelled container ships. Photo: Zhongshan Changhong International Shipyard