The following article appears in the December 2014 issue of “Shipping Network,” the official magazine of the Institute of Chartered Shipbrokers.
Holidays in the hold by Kevin Griffin
The UK-registered 2009-built CMA CGM Andromeda carries ten passengers in two twin cabins and three doubles
As many shipping people are aware, there are about 300 passenger-carrying cargo ships on world trade routes, ranging from shortsea vessels to the world’s largest container ships. These vessels, all built in recent years, are limited to a maximum of twelve passengers each, above which they must carry a doctor.
Still, it never fails to surprise us the number of people engaged in shipping who do not realise that cargo ships might carry passengers. Twice, we have had booked passengers to board in Long Beach who were told by the local agent that their ships did not carry passengers!
As container ships displaced cargo liners in the 1970s, much cargo-passenger activity faded away, but over the years the practice has been revived as the concept was introduced to container ships. The first container line to carry passengers was Hamburg-Süd in 1985.
The changed nature of the chartering of container ships today can, however, cause problems for would-be passengers. While once owners operated their own ships, today’s fleets are divided into owned, leased and chartered vessels, and since 2008 many of the latter have been operating on some very short charters.
This particularly affects Germany with its shipowning tax saving plans. When ships change charterers or are withdrawn from one route and moved to another this causes problems for passengers This is something passengers are made aware of when they book of course, but it’s still a disruption.
To take a German example, Niederelbe Schiffahrtsgesellschaft Buxtehude (NSB) turned to passenger carrying after an unusual start. Managing newly-built container ships owned by many individuals investing in the 1980s and 1990s ‘KG’ tax saving schemes, it set aside accommodation for the owners’ holidays.
But when investors did not make use of the cabins NSB offered them to the public. It now operates about 40 passenger-carrying container ships on routes that are determined by charterers such as CMA CGM, Evergreen Line, Hanjin, MSC and Zim.
CMA CGM owns 75 passenger-carrying cargo ships, 30 of which are registered in London. After adding the privatised CGM to CMA to form CMA CGM in 1996, chairman Jacques Saadé decided that new container ships should have passenger accommodation, usually for eight or 10 passengers. This was his way of commemorating famous French liners such as the Normandie and the France.
CMA CGM’s Panama Direct Service between Europe and Australia and New Zealand is fully booked eighteen months in advance. A round voyage takes 84 days and one-way bookings are also accepted. But while cabins for voyages to Australia are full, trade with China means that there is still plenty of space for those wishing to travel to and from the Far East. CMA CGM carried 874 passengers during 2013.
For its part, Grimaldi Lines provides passenger accommodation in about 35 cargo ships. As they are of a unique design, they are the only cargo ships offering inside cabins. Other lines have a maximum age limit of 79, but Grimaldi will accept passengers up to 85. Its most popular services run from Tilbury to South America and from Southampton to the Mediterranean and Scandinavia.
Hamburg’s Rickmers Line, meanwhile, operates nine multi-purpose heavy lift ships in round-the-world service. Spending more time in port, they are popular with passengers. Passengers join in Singapore, sail to ports in Southeast Asia and the Far East, transit the Panama Canal and call on the US eastern seaboard before crossing the Atlantic to Antwerp, Hamburg and Genoa. Those wishing to sail all the way round the world can connect to Singapore from Europe or North America by container ship.
Polsteam operates to the Great Lakes and has a fleet of 11 ships that accept passengers. Carrying steel from IJmuiden to the lakes and loading grain out, they offer the last opportunity to travel on a “tramp” bulk carrier.
In light of the popularity of passenger transits on cargo ships, why have some owners such as Maersk and Hapag-Lloyd taken themselves entirely out of the passenger game, while others such as CMA CGM, Grimaldi and Hamburg-Süd have upped their ante with more ships? When Hapag-Lloyd bought out CP Ships in 2005, for example, it took 21 container ships out of the passenger game.
One reason owners like passengers is that in a poor market a few passengers can add a few hundred dollars a day to the time charter return. Another, more altruistic reason, is that their officers and crew feel less isolated and disconnected from the real world, a worthwhile reason indeed. Fares average about €100 per person per day.
Kevin Griffin MICS is managing director of Griffin Maritime Co Ltd and its affiliate The Cruise People Ltd. Further details at www.cruisepeople.co.uk.