Liner giants CMA CGM and Ocean Network Express (ONE) have forward-fixed a series of traditional panamax and post-panamax vessels in deals reflecting confidence in the container market.

The French and Japanese carriers have committed to long-term fixtures of six large container ships with charters mostly beginning next year.

Singapore-headquartered ONE is taking a brace of 6,500-teu vessels from Greek owner Costamare for three years at a strong rate of about $59,000 per day, market sources said.

The 6,492-teu Aries and Argus (both built 2004) are expected to be taken on charter between February and April 2023.

Rates are lower than last done but remain historically high in a market where very few large vessels remain available for charter.

Meanwhile, CMA CGM has committed to taking four baby-panamax container vessels from New York-listed Global Ship Lease (GSL).

The French carrier has extended charters for 60 months at a net rate believed to be around $39,000 per day, say brokers.

One of the charters begins in December, while the remaining three take place in the first quarter of 2023.

Vessels in GSL’s fleet with charters set to expire matching that description are the 4,363-teu GSL Susan (built 2008), the 4,298-teu CMA CGM Jamaica, and the 4,043-teu CMA CGM Sambhar and CMA CGM America (all built 2006).

The vessels currently earn between $22,000 and $25,350 per day.

Charter markets have eased off in recent weeks, but that has not stemmed the appetite of liner operators including CMA CGM to acquire secondhand tonnage.

The French liner operator is reported to have purchased the 3,884-teu Cap Capricorn (built 2013) from XT Shipping of Israel for around $75m.

Meanwhile, Mediterranean Shipping Co is rumoured to be close to acquiring the 9,403-teu Judith Schulte and Johanna Schulte (both built 2013).

The modern neo-panamax container ships are estimated to be worth in excess of $150m each, according to VesselsValue.

That could point to a significant profit for shipowner Bernhard Schulte, although a source close to the German company denied that the vessels had been sold.

Spot rates fall

The interest of major lines in the charter and secondhand markets remains strong, despite the ongoing fall in container freight rates.

Container spot rates from Asia to the US and Europe dropped this week to their lowest levels in more than 14 months.

That is reflected in the drop of the FBX Global Container Index to $6,157 per 40-foot equivalent unit, the lowest since May 2021.

Freight rates from China to the US West Coast have fallen 50% this year. Pictured, the 14,336-teu MSC Kanoko (built 2019) at Los Angeles in 2020. Photo: MSC

The index has been weighed down by a fall of more than 50% this year in spot freight rates from China to the US West Coast (USWC).

Persistent port congestion has helped keep rates elevated, Freightos noted.

Freight rates from Asia to the USWC are more than four times higher than in July 2019 and volumes remain historically strong compared with pre-pandemic levels.

But lower consumer demand and shipments of peak season orders earlier in the year could account for the falling spot market, Freightos added.