HMM may explore autonomous ships, trans-Atlantic trade

HMM said it will use data collected at its newly opened fleet control center in part to explore the commercial viability of autonomous ships. The South Korean carrier also may be exploring reentry into the trans-Atlantic trade.

HMM has begun monitoring and directing operations of its existing vessels from the control center at the shipping line’s research and development facility in Busan, South Korea.

The HMM fleet includes 12 newbuilds, each with a capacity of 24,000 twenty-foot equivalent units (TEUs). The South Korean company took delivery of the 12th ship in September. The first of the massive container ships, the HMM Algeciras, launched in April. 

HMM has opened a fleet control center in Busan, South Korea. (Photo: HMM)

HMM expects to receive eight 16,000-TEU container ships in the second quarter of 2021. It said all 20 vessels will “feature the latest smart ship solutions.”

President and CEO Jae-hoon Bae said, “Digital capabilities have become a key element in securing a competitive edge. We will accelerate efforts to enhance operational excellence and efficiency in our fleet management. We will also gradually apply the smart ship solutions not only to our newbuilds but also to the other ships already in operation.”

HMM, which currently has a fleet of about 100 vessels, said in its announcement Wednesday that the control center “provides an integrated platform for vessel-to-shore data and increased connectivity. Its real-time monitoring system offers plenty of information with full visibility, including vessel performance, locations, fuel consumption, ocean weather and cargo information.”

A remote control system in the center “supports a wide range of vessel operations, including inspection and repair work on the machinery on ships,” HMM said. “In addition, each vessel is encouraged to identify and react to an unexpected threat or obstacle both on board and around the ship by sharing information with the fleet control center in a timely manner.”

HMM did not comment Wednesday on a report that it will return to the trans-Atlantic trade with sailings between Europe and the U.S. East Coast in the first quarter of 2021.

HMM left the trans-Atlantic trade in the summer of 2018 after it terminated its space-sharing agreement with the 2M Alliance. It is now a member of The Alliance with Hapag-Lloyd, Yang Ming and Ocean Network Express. Wednesday’s report said it was unknown if HMM would operate the trans-Atlantic service on its own or through The Alliance.

HMM has been making great strides toward profitability this year. Its first-half results showed a climb out of the hole in operating profit, a turnaround from negative 218.5 billion Korean won (minus $181 million) in the same period in 2019 to a positive 136.7 billion won ($113 million) this year. 

HMM announced in October 2019 that it would use a 660 billion won ($562.4 million) convertible bond for ship and equipment investments. It then placed the order for the 12 20,000-TEU container ships.

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Click for more American Shipper/FreightWaves stories by Senior Editor Kim Link-Wills.