Anyone who heard Andy Tung reveal OOCL’s results earlier this year might not have been that surprised about the subsequent unveiling of the latest liner alliance unimaginatively labelled “OCEAN Alliance.”

Mr Tung declared at the press conference that the company was always looking for new alliance opportunities. As for the others perhaps Evergreen was the surprise element in the CMA CGM, Cosco Container Lines, OOCL and Evergreen Line combination.

What differentiates the new alliance from those that have gone before is its refusal to be bound to the traditional East-West trades. OCEAN Alliance will have a combined fleet of around 350 vessels working across 40 services in the Asia-Europe, Transpacific, Transatlantic, Asia-Middle East and Red Sea trades.

OCEAN Alliance is taking the 2M Alliance head on in most trades. According to industry analyst Drewry Maritime Research OCEAN will not be much of a challenge to 2M Asia to North Europe when the alliance comes into effect next year after receiving the necessary approval. The analyst forecasts a 36% share for 2M against OCEAN’s 19%. The G6 Alliance accounts for another 19% with the CKYHE Alliance holding the remaining 25%.

In Asia-North America trades OCEAN will not have to contend with but picks up 15% of the trade compared to 30% for the CKYHE Alliance.

But the most important facet to the new Alliance is that with hindsight it may be seen as one of a number of early tremors that include the formation of 2M and CMA CGM’s acquisition of NOL. The real seismic changes in liner shipping could well be ahead of us.

Capacity is all and it is capacity that has dogged the sector for years until some participants – Hanjin Shipping and Hyundai Merchant Marine (HMM) specifically are so heavily weighed down in debt they are sinking at the prow. Something has to give and it could be either or both these Korean shipping companies, although the country is unlikely to let its leading shipping lines go down.

In addition to HMM and Hanjin there are five other liner companies who post-OCEAN find themselves without an alliance to hang on to; Hapag-Lloyd, K Line, MOL, NYK, UASC and Yang Ming.

The combinations in a new alliance are infinitely variable including all eight flying under a new Alliance flag. But that seems unlikely given the characteristic fragmentary nature of the business. The most recent news suggests that the merger of Hapag-Lloyd and UASC is unlikely to happen which could pave the way for a binary partnership. HMM and Hanjin could be forced to merge given the dire financials of both. This would leave NYK, MOL, K Line and Yang Ming to combine with the others on a selective basis.