HMM to Continue Deploying More Ships as Port Congestion Persists

HMM's containership 'HMM Algeciras'. (Krisztian Bocsi/Bloomberg News)

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HMM Co., the biggest container-shipping line in South Korea, will continue deploying more vessels than usual to try to meet demand from the country’s exporters struggling to transport goods overseas.

The company has been operating more vessels since the second half of 2020 and will continue to use two or three extra ones a month for the rest of the year, an HMM spokesman said. It operates 77 ships in total, with the biggest able to carry up to 25,000 20-foot containers.

Congestion has become a headache for shipping and logistics companies throughout the pandemic, with containers piling up at busy ports because of a lack of workers and truck drivers. That has left vessels lining up for weeks outside ports in places such as the U.S. West Coast.

South Korean exporters also have had trouble finding space for cargo on ships because most of them arrive in Busan, the world’s sixth-busiest container harbor, already full from China before sailing across the Pacific Ocean. Despite COVID outbreaks and disruptive lockdowns in Shanghai and other parts of China, HMM’s vessels are full when they leave the country for the U.S. and Europe, the spokesman said. The extra ships will set out directly from South Korea.

The spokesman added that more customers are becoming worried that congestion at U.S. ports could worsen when the industry’s peak season arrives, usually starting in June and lasting for three to four months, as retailers stock up on consumer goods ahead of the year-end holidays.

HMM reported its biggest annual operating profit of 7.38 trillion won ($5.8 billion) last year, helped by port congestion lifting shipping rates. HMM shares slipped 2.6% on May 10, trimming their advance this year to 6.5%.

HMM ranks No. 29 on the Transport Topics Top 50 list of the largest global freight carriers.

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