AP Moller-Maersk has joined the growing ranks of liner operators prepared to sublet vessels deemed surplus to requirements on major east-west trades.

The Danish giant has fixed the 6,700-teu Northern Monument (built 2004) to rival operator SeaLead Shipping for six months at a low benchmark rate of about $38,500 per day.

That compares with more than $100,000 per day that a vessel of this size might have earned in September for a six to 12-month fixture.

The deal reflects a growing trend among liner operators in recent weeks, with sublets adding to the lengthening tonnage lists.

The trend has already been noted on the transpacific, where there is ebbing demand and container freight rates are falling.

Hawaiian carrier Matson sublet the 3,500-teu Navios Verano (built 2006) for four to six months to French liner operator CMA CGM.

Matson has also been laying up vessels. The 707-teu Kamokuiki (built 2000), which previously operated in trades from China to New Zealand, is now laid up in Labuan, Malaysia.

Liner operators are also putting smaller vessels on the market for relet, although some have been withdrawn for reasons that remain unclear, according to two European brokers.

Other companies that acquired container ships that were expected to be used to start new services are also finding new homes.

Added pressure

China’s Transfar Shipping, which was established to carry cargoes for e-commerce player Alibaba, has fixed both of its Bangkokmax newbuildings to Hapag-Lloyd.

The German operator is taking the 1,800-teu Transfar Los Angeles (built 2022), which was delivered on 3 January from Yangzijiang Shipbuilding.

It was one of two Transfar ships, with the other being the 1,800-teu A Goryu (built 2022). The vessels were fixed last month by Hapag-Lloyd at $14,500 per day on 11 to 18-month charters.

The prospect of more relets is adding to pressure on the charter market, resulting in rates being fixed at much lower levels.

Mediterranean Shipping Co (MSC) is reported to have taken advantage of the lower rates and snapped up a pair of traditional baby panamax boxships.

The 4,398-teu BF Giant and 4,256-teu AS Emma (both built 2010) are reported to have been fixed for between one and two years at about $20,000 per day.

That is lower than the $31,000 per day that the AS Emma had been fixed to SeaLead for at the end of November, albeit for a shorter period of six to eight months.

That deal, which included a scrubber premium of $5,000 per day, failed and a longer charter was subsequently secured.

The increasing number of relets has been prompted by the gradual normalisation of cargo flows, the return of capacity tied up by congestion and lower consumer demand.

Charter rates are down 75% from their March peak, according to Alphaliner, which forecasts more weakness in the charter markets in 2023, with overcapacity predicted to return.