Maersk, a global leader in container shipping, has partnered with Chinese e-commerce giant Alibaba to offer an online reservation service to cargo shippers looking for space on its vessels.

The deal seeks to skirt the traditional process whereby shippers go through middleman freight forwarders to book cargo space on container ships.

A unit of the Danish logistics and transport giant Moller-Maersk, Maersk began allowing Chinese shippers to access the reservation service across Alibaba’s OneTouch booking system from the 22nd December.

‘The initial launch allows existing Alibaba OneTouch users to lock in the price of required cargo spaces on selected routes by pre-paying a deposit amount,’ said a spokeswoman for the shipping line. ‘This service will be offered on selected routes and ports initially,’ she added.

The OneTouch service, which was acquired by Alibaba in 2010, is currently being offered to exporters using container shipping routes from eight Chinese ports, including Shanghai and Ningbo, to various destinations across Europe and Asia.

According to the Maersk spokeswoman, the new partnership with Alibaba is in line with the firm’s strategy to provide digital solutions for its customers. She also noted that the company is planning to pilot further technologies across more third-party platforms in the near future.

Alibaba, along with other leading e-commerce companies, has made clear its interest in expanding into logistics operations in order to gain greater control over its supply chain networks. It holds considerable stakes in courier services and is investing heavily in expanding its warehouse portfolio.

Speaking on Alibaba’s growing warehouse ownership, CEO of logistics arm Cainiao, Judy Tong said: ‘People may think that an internet company shouldn’t have property but [we] cannot just be a pure data company…It has to be an integrated company with data and an efficient logistics network. An app can’t solve the problems of logistics.’

Amazon has recently registered its Chinese business to operate as an ocean freight forwarder, making it easier for Chinese sellers to access the company’s American customer base and move goods into the company’s global network. Amazon is also establishing a fleet of aircraft to better manage cargo transportation between distribution centres in the United States.