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Hapag-Lloyd, five Asian shipping lines said to form new alliance

[TOKYO] Hapag-Lloyd AG, Germany's top container shipping line, and five Asian carriers will form a new alliance, people familiar with the matter said.

The partners will include Japan's Kawasaki Kisen Kaisha Ltd, Mitsui OSK Lines Ltd, Nippon Yusen KK, South Korea's Hanjin Shipping Co and Taiwan's Yang Ming Marine Transport Corp, the people said, asking not to be identified as the matter isn't public yet. The alliance is set to make the announcement Friday, the people said.

Global shipping lines are regrouping amid a glut in capacity that's depressed freight rates, and to compete more effectively against market leaders AP Moeller-Maersk A/S and Mediterranean Shipping Co, which are allied under the 2M partnership.

They also have to contend with Chinese operators as the government consolidated operations of two major state-controlled groups, China Ocean Shipping Group and China Shipping Group.

"It's a grouping of the weak," said Minoru Matsuno, president of a Tokyo-based investment advisory firm Value Search Asset Management Co, referring to the new shipping alliance.

"Given the size of Maersk and the Chinese shipping lines, the companies in this new group need to review their strategy. Otherwise I am very skeptical about their ability to survive."

Yang Ming is part of a new shipping alliance that is set to be announced Friday, according to Vice President Winsor Huang, who declined to elaborate.

Representatives from Nippon Yusen, Kawasaki Kisen, Mitsui OSK and Hanjin Shipping declined to comment. Hapag-Lloyd's press office in Hamburg didn't immediately return a phone message left outside office hours seeking comment.

Nippon Yusen, Mitsui OSK and Hapag-Lloyd are all part of the existing G6 Alliance. Hanjin Shipping, Kawasaki Kisen and Yang Ming are currently part of the CKHYE alliance that also includes Cosco Container Lines Co and Evergreen Marine Corp Taiwan Ltd.

CMA CGM SA, the world's No 3 carrier, and three other major lines signed a preliminary agreement to form a new group called the Ocean Alliance, which could become the second biggest after Maersk Line's 2M partnership with Mediterranean.

France-based CMA CGM is taking over Singapore's Neptune Orient Lines Ltd and plans to bring the latter's container operations unit APL under the Ocean Alliance.

Among shipping lines that so far haven't joined a new alliance is Hyundai Merchant Marine Co.

The Wall Street Journal reported Thursday that Hyundai Merchant is expected to be part of the latest alliance involving Hapag-Lloyd.

BLOOMBERG