THE top eight Japanese shipping companies' tonnage in operation at the end of the April totalled 1,552 vessels or 79.11 million deadweight tonnes (dwt). This represented an increase of 22 vessels or 470,000 dwt, compared with the preceding business year ended April 1993. Of the eight carriers, the top three - Nippon Yusen Kalsha (NYK Line), Mitsui OSK Lines (MOL) and Kawasaki Kisen Kaisha (K-Line) - posted gains. Most carriers experienced declines in terms of owned tonnage, with the eight firms' combined tonnage falling by six ships or 1.12 million dwt to 179 vessels or 16.76 million tonnes. NYK Line registered a record high in operation with 403 vessels (17.69 dwt), an increase of two ships (440,000 dwt). However, its owned tonnage declined by 560,000 dwt to 5.36 million dwt although the number of owned vessels remained the same with 62, a near one-third decline compared with the 173 vessels posted 22 years ago for the 1972 business year. MOL operated 346 vessels (17.43 million dwt), up 23 ships (900,000 dwt). The tonnage K-Line operated rose by eight vessels (190,000 dwt) to 228 (10.83 million dwt). Navix Line experienced a decline of 16 ships (1.17 million dwt) to 149 (11.68 million dwt. Showa Line's tonnage increased by one vessel to 111 but tonnage fell by 120,000 dwt to 7.59 million dwt. Shinwa Kaiun Kaisha recorded an increase of 30,000 dwt to 5.76 million dwt (111 vessels) and Daiichi Chuo Kisen a 520,000 dwt gain to 4.65 million dwt. However, Iino Kaiun posted a fall of 310,000 dwt to 3.47 million dwt (87 vessels). Meanwhile, MOL and Nedlloyd Lines are planning to upgrade their joint Japan - Far East east coast of South America service to a fixed-day weekly basis by the end of the year. Their service on this route via the Cape of Good Hope is provided at 10-day intervals with nine semi-container ships. MOL and Nedlloyd intend to increase the frequency to once a week by deploying more newbuildings on the service. Independent carriers and newcomers are out to expand services on the route. NYK Line, a conference line, has announced that together with four other carriers, including Compania Sud Americana de Vaporas (CSAV) of Chile and Nantai Line of Taiwan, it will launch a fixed-day weekly service to the east coast of South America via South Africa in January. MOL and Nedlloyd started their joint service on the route in September last year with three monthly sailings. However, they are now studying plans to upgrade the service to a fixed-day weekly basis in order to strengthen competitiveness. At present, MOL has four semi-container ships of 1,200 TEUs (20-foot equivalent units) under construction at Minaminippon Shipbuilding Co. The first of these is almost complete, the second will be ready in August and the remaining two next year. Nedlloyd is also expanding its fleet. MOL and Nedlloyd are co-ordinating their fleet expansion plans for the joint service, including both existing vessels and those on order, according to shipping sources. They will also regulate their ports of call and port rotation schedules.