Graig Group, the British shipowner, ship design and ship services firm, has ordered up to 26 feeder container ships from mainland shipbuilder Jinhai Heavy Industry, to take advantage of a boom forecast in intra-Asia trade. Chris Williams, commercial director of Graig Shipping, said that the initial order was worth about US$180 million for six of the newly designed Marlin 2000 Blue 2,000 teu containerships. Williams added that Graig had until later this year to declare options for a further 20 ships but these could be smaller or larger than the first six. The Marlin range of vessels, which have been designed by Graig in association with Wartsila Ship Design, have similar basic features but vary in cargo-carrying capacity between 1,100 and 4,000 teu and could be equipped with different fuel systems, including liquefied natural gas. Williams said that even using normal fuel oil, the vessels would be up to 30 per cent more fuel-efficient than conventional ships while carrying 20 per cent more containers. Graig has dubbed the Marlin 2000 ships Bangkok-max because of their shallow draft and narrow beam, making them suitable to sail into draft-restricted ports in Bangkok and other Asian ports. Williams said that these, together with the larger Marlin vessels, 'have been designed with an eye on the intra-Asia trade'. He believes Asia is set to become the biggest container shipping market in the next few years. Total cargo volumes in the region could top 80.4 million teu by 2015, which would be almost double the trade volumes on trans-Pacific and Asia-Europe trades, according to the UN Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific. Graig is still finalising charters for the first six vessels, which are being financed with the support of the Export-Import Bank of China. The first pair are due for delivery in August and September 2013, with subsequent vessels to be delivered in pairs every two and a half months. Hugh Williams, Graig Shipping chairman and chief executive, said: 'Jinhai is part of the Hainan Airlines Group, a major Chinese conglomerate which also owns a leading logistics player in Grand China Logistics and there is the possibility of the yard's parent group owning or chartering Marlin vessels.' The deal between Graig and Jinhai Heavy Industry also strengthens Graig's relations with mainland shipyards, where it is supervising the construction of 50 ships, of which about half are being built for Chinese owners.