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P&O Maritime Redeploying Shortsea Vessels to Container Service

carrying containers on shortsea cargo ships
P&O Martiime Logistics refitted the first of its multi-carrying vessels for containers (P&O Maritime Logistics)

Published Feb 28, 2022 6:43 PM by The Maritime Executive

With much of the focus on moving larger volumes of containers to elevate supply chain problems, DP World’s P&O Maritime Logistics has a unique solution to focus on low volume, high-frequency shortsea routes to address niche markets that have been hurt by the market disruptions. Best known for operating in ports and providing offshore support the company is launching its first-ever container service.

P&O Maritime Logistics recently refitted the first of its multi-carry vessels so that it could transport 20, 40, and 45-foot containers. The vessels originally built by Vard Group in 2017 and 2018 are 403 feet long with a capacity to carry 2,000 tons of deck cargo. They have a clear deck area of 1,300 square meters with the capability to operate as Ro/Ro or deck load cargo. According to the company, currently several of its MCVs are delivering wind turbine blades, large process modules, reactors, and pressure vessels on shortsea routes.

A range of shippers have been seeking unique solutions to their needs to move containers. According to P&O the inspiration for the new service came from working with another DP World-owned company, shortsea feeder service provider Unifeeder. P&O Maritime Logistics worked with Unifeeder on providing services on container routes with low number of containers but a need for a fast turnaround due to logistics limitations, on low volume high-frequency routes.

“As global supply chains have been stretched in recent years, we are entering the container carrying market to help provide additional capacity in the lower-volume, higher-frequency routes,” said Martin Helweg, CEO of P&O Maritime Logistics. "We’ll be working closely with our parent company DP World in rolling out of containerized service, beginning with shortsea feeder service provider Unifeeder.”

According to the company, the redesign of the vessel with the addition of container capabilities demonstrates the versatility of the MCV fleet. They are currently planning to convert five additional MCVs to enter the container market. Helweg said they hope to soon be servicing niche trade lanes stretching from the Americas to Southeast Asia. The company said container-fitted MCVs are ideal for shortsea routes as well as trade routes through rivers and to shallow water ports like the transit between Turkey and the Caspian via the Russian rivers.

While the concept presents an interesting solution and reuse of existing vessels, the timing of the launch is ill-timed with world events. The first vessel converted for the new service is registered in Russia. The vessels are currently booked to be operating in areas including the Caspian Sea, Black Sea, and the Russian Inland Waterway System with P&O Maritime Logistics noting that they were expecting additional projects in 2022 during the open season of the Volga Don Canal.

Earlier today, the UK announced that it was closing its ports to all vessels registered in Russia or operating by Russian companies due to the invasion of Ukraine. Discussions are also underway among lawmakers in the European Union to extend the current economic sanctions on Russia to include the maritime industry by also closing EU ports and possibly waterways to Russian shipping.