Evergreen mega boxships order stalls

TAIWANESE container giant Evergreen appears to have fallen foul of the credit squeeze amid reports that plans to deploy a series of 12,400 teu ships are coming apart.

The company was unable to comment on the speculation today, but brokers believe a shipbuilding order by Greece’s Niki Group on the back of a charter deal to Evergreen has been cancelled, with the yard berths now back on the market.

Whether Evergreen will try to find another intermediary, place an order directly, or decide against such big ships in the current climate, remains unclear.

Another major containership owner, Claus-Peter Offen, is believed to have reconfigured a massive order for 12,600 teu vessels placed with Daewoo Shipbuilding and Marine Engineering.

Four of the 18 ships of that size that Mr Offen had originally specified have been downgraded to 7,000 teu units, according to unconfirmed reports, with the financial balance made up by an additional pair of capesize bulkers.

While Evergreen’s intentions regarding super post-panamax tonnage are up in the air, Evergreen Marine chairman Arnold Wang confirmed today that the company had pulled out of a joint venture with the Chinese government to build a brand new shipyard at Quanzhou in the province of Fujian.

The project was unveiled last August, but Mr Wang said the investment had been cancelled for commercial reasons. The proposed yard, with a capacity of 350,000 tonnes, had been scheduled to open in 2011.

Evergreen’s internal debate about whether to order 13,000 teu ships has been fraught with difficulties after group chairman Chang Yung-fa publically declared his opposition to vessels larger than 8,000 teu.

After much prevarication, the line finally decided to go for a long-term charter through Niki Group that was to place the order with STX Shipbuilding, although details have never been officially confirmed. Now, though, brokers are hearing that the order has run into difficulty because of the problems of organising the necessary finance.

Evergreen Marine said in February that an agreement in principle had been signed with Niki Group for the long-term charter of eight 12,400 teu vessels that would be delivered in 2011. But the company stressed at the time that a number of key details including charter rates were still under discussion.

Many of the shipbuilding orders announced over the past year do not have shipfinance in place, and could fail as the liquidity squeeze continues, say senior market sources,.

Some of the published orders were due to be placed at yards that have not yet been built. As concern about the global economy grows, they may never be developed.

That appears to be so in the case of Evergreen’s abandoned shipyard plan.

But although newbuilding activity has slowed, orders are still being placed. Maersk Broker is reporting an interest in wide-beamed 4,400 teu to 4,800 teu tonnage where negotiations are underway. Belgian container line Delphis is said to be one of those in discussion. Germany’s ER Schiffahrt is also reported to be back in the market.

And with yards being more open-minded about new designs and modifications, that may stimulate more ordering business, says Maersk Broker.

 * Maersk Broker is one of three new firms, along with Vogt & Maguire and Barry Rogliano, to officiallly join the panel of brokers compiling the Container Ship Time Charter Assessment Index, or ConTex, published by the Hamburg Shipbrokers Association. A formal announcement is expected in the next few days.