Most of the goods that we use in our everyday lives – like the very smartphone you are using to read this article – were manufactured in another country, loaded into a Conex shipping container, and shipped across the ocean on a massive container ship and unloaded at a shipping container port near your city.
It should be no surprise that nearly 80% of all consumer goods are transported by sea by a small number of major international shipping container companies. Major shipping companies that host fleets of hundreds of ocean going vessels and the innumerable steel cargo containers that they carry on transoceanic voyages to the consumer markets in the USA and other countries.
You have likely seen photos of enormous freight liners carrying Conex containers with names such as Maersk, COSCO Shipping, and Evergreen being unloaded at coastal cargo ports. This article is about these major container shipping companies and a little background on the history of the 5 biggest shipping companies.
The size of the largest container shipping companies are measured according to two criteria:
!) The number of container ships in the company’s fleet
2) The company’s volume of TEUs* – an industry term that measures the volume of goods that may be transported inside a standard 20 ft Conex container.
*Definition: twenty-foot equivalent unit (TEU) The twenty-foot equivalent unit (abbreviated TEU or teu) is an inexact unit of cargo capacity, often used for container ships and container ports.It is based on the volume of a 20-foot-long (6.1 m) intermodal container, a standard-sized metal box which can be easily transferred between different modes of transportation, such as ships, trains, and trucks,
Ranking the World’s Top Ten Container Shipping Companies
Image credit: https://www.visualcapitalist.com
The data used in this infographic comes from Alcott Global, a logistics consultancy. Fleet sizes are as of June 2021, while TEU capacity is from January 2022.
At the time of this article – the 4th quarter of 2022 – the latest figures show that MSC has surpassed Maersk in volume of TEU capacity. Our ranking graphic uses the metric of the number of ships in the fleet.
Rounding out our top ten list below, the top two MSC and Maersk are a number of lesser known Asian and European based shipping companies. When we examine the history behind these great freight carriers, we frequently see a common history of simple origins followed by a succession of acquisitions of other, minor regional shipping companies. Their fleet of ships and routes are absorbed under the banner of the parent company.
Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported (CC BY-SA 3.0)
Not only does Maersk top the list of world’s largest shipping companies, it also stands as Denmark’s number three biggest company according to market capitalization. The A. P. Moller-Maersk Group is a Danish conglomerate with the shipping branch known most commonly as Maersk.
The A.P. Møller-Mærsk Group originated as the Danish shipping company Dampskibsselskabet Svendborg founded in 1904 in the city of Svendborg by Captain Peter Mærsk-Møller and his son AP Meller. One of the sons of AP, Mærsk Mc-Kinney Møller became the CEO of the company following his father;s passing. Mærsk Mc-Kinney Møller served as the chairman of the Maersk company into his 90s and was a managing owner until the time of his death in 2006.
Mærsk provides shipping services all over the globe with operations in 374 ports in 116 different countries. In figures from 2019, Maersk employed 83,625 people; of which 18,398 were ship crew and the remaining 65,227 employees were processing and operations staff in shipping offices and port facilities.
The Maersk Line consists of over 708 shipping vessels of different sizes with a cargo capacity of over 4.1 million TEU.
Key dates in Maersk company history
Maersk made a major acquisition of Safmarine Container Lines (SCL). The South African based company had assets of approximately 50 sea vessels with a fleet of over 80,000 Conex containers The acquisition included a total of ten trades and augmented Maersk Line’s operating line of vessels and routes.
In the same year of 1999, A.P. Moller Group also acquired SeaLand Service Inc, another major international shipping container carrier. This deal increased the A.P. Moller Group fleet by 70 vessels and 200,000 Conex containers. The deal included other SeaL and Service Inc terminals, offices and agencies as well.
In May of 2005 Maersk purchased shipping carrier P&O Nedlloyd for a reported 2.3 billion euros. P&O Nedlloyd possessed 6% of the global shipping industry market, adding to Maersk’s existing 12% market share.
The newly combined assets comprised approximately 18% of the industry market share. In February 2006, the consolidated shipping entity changed to its new name Maersk Line. This merger brought a fleet of over 160 vessels and a container fleetwith a capacity of 635,000 TEU. P&O Nedlloyd had a workforce of over 13,000 employees throughout its network in 146 countries.
In March of 2021, Maersk announced its goal of having the world’s first carbon neutral liner ship. The target date is forecast to be launched in 2023, seven years ahead of the earlier date for launch. Maersk has also purchased eight methanol powered ships from Hyundai Heavy Industries for $1.4 billion to further add to its fleet.
The Maersk Line coverage is truly global in its reach.. The main trade routes of Asia-Europe and Trans-Atlantic lines, Maersk Line also includes substantial routes serving Europe to South America and to Africa.
Daily Maersk launched its flagship concept which provides guaranteed service between manufacturing supply ports located in China and several European based ports in 2011
In addition to their primary trade routes, Maersk also features multiple continental trade lines.These secondary lines include: the Intra-Asia route with MCC Transport, a European route via Seago Lines, and American trade lanes through SeaLand Service.
2) Mediterranean Shipping Company S.A. (MSC)
The second shipping industry mega-line (and possibly number one in the near future) is the Mediterranean Shipping Company S.A. (MSC). MSC is an international shipping line established in Italy in 1970 by Gianluigi Aponte. MSC has been headquartered in Switzerland since 1978.
MSC is a privately owned company by the Aponte family of Italy. If we are ranking by the number of vessels in its fleet, Maersk occupies the top spot. But in terms of TEU capacity, then MSC has a claim to being the world’s largest container shipping line. The company’s shipping lines truly span the globe as its comprehensive routes extend to all major sea ports in the world.
The Mediterranean Shipping Company (MSC) was founded in 1970 in the Italian port city of Naples. Captain Gianluigi Aponte purchased his first ship, the Patricia, and shortly thereafter, a second vessel, the Rafaela was added.
The forward thinking Captain Aponte started an early shipping line running between the Mediterranean sea and Somalia. From this humble start, the line expanded through purchases of additional cargo vessels. By 1977, the MSC expanded lines to northern Europe, Africa and across the Indian Ocean. In the same period, in 1978, the corporate headquarters was established in Geneva, Switzerland.
Throughout the 1980s MSC continued to build its fleet and expand its shipping lines. A key part of this expansion were lines operating to North America and Australia.
World’s Largest Container ship
An interesting fact: In January of 2015, MSC launched the world’s largest container ship, MSC Oscar. This Olympic class Container ship has a length of 395.4 m (1,297 ft). Its capacity is an impressive 19,224 TEU – the equivalent of 1,800 refrigerated cargo containers.
The MSC Oscar was built by Daewoo Shipbuilding & Marine Engineering and registered in Panama.
Image credit: By kees torn – MSC OSCAR & SVITZER NARI, CC BY-SA 2.0,
MSC adds a subsidiary in the cruise business following its acquisition of cruise liner the Monterey. MSC assumed control over the Lauro cruise line adding to its fleet.With two more cruise ships,the Rhapsody and Melody, added to the fleet, another branch, MSC Cruises, was officially established as a subsidiary of the parent MSC Group.
Present day, MSC’s fleet consists of 570 container vessels with a freight capacity of 3,920,784 (TEU).The cruise ship division named MSC Cruises is a holiday cruise line based in Geneva, with operations offices in Naples, Genoa and Venice.
3) COSCO Shipping
China COSCO Shipping Corporation Limited, aka COSCO Shipping, is a state owned Chinese shipping company that is headquartered in one of the world’s largest container ports, Shanghai. COSCO Shipping was created in January 2016 due to the merger of the COSCO Group and China Shipping Group.
At the time of March 2020, the COSCO fleet was ranked among the largest in the world numbering 1310 ships with a (TEU) volume capacity of 105.92 million.
In addition to its large fleet of vessels the Chinese operated COSCO own terminal properties in five U.S. shipping ports. The largest example of Chinese owned terminals in US ports might be Terminal 30 in the Port of Seattle. Two COSCO companies have a 33.33 ownership.percentage.
The CCP approved the merger of China Shipping and COSCO lines, creating the entity of COSCO Shipping. With the merger of the two shipping giants, the new COSCO conglomerate was able to reap the benefits of a greater economy of scale.Reportedly the merger was spurred by the Chinese government’s business strategy to restructure the CCP-owned shipping operations.
4) CMA CGM S.A. is a French container shipping company based in ]IMarseille, France. CMA CGM is ranked as the the world’s 4th biggest container shipping company. At the time of this writing, CMA CGM operates 257 shipping routes between 420 ports spanning 160 countries. The name CMA CGM is a combination of the names of it’s two parent companies, the Compagnie Maritime d’Affrètement (CMA) and Compagnie Générale Maritime (CGM). Translated from the original French, the names mean the “Maritime Freighting Company” and the “General Maritime Company” respectively.
The origin of the CMA CGM shipping company may be traced back to the middle of the 1800’s. Two major French container shipping companies were created: the Messageries Maritimes (MM) around 1851 and the Compagnie Générale Maritime (CGM) in 1855.
The two companies were formed partly with the assistance of the French government, with the primary function to deliver mail to various nations within the French colonies. The routes also serviced overseas territories and other foreign countries.
In the period following the end of the two World Wars, the MM and CGM became “State owned corporations of the competitive sector” i.e. companies that, while owned by the State, were run as private for-profit businesses operating in competitive markets.” source: Wikipedia
Prime Minister Jacques Chirac and the French government eventually merged the two companies during the years of 1974 to 1977 to ultimately form the Compagnie Générale Maritime CGM.
The CGM (Compagnie Générale Maritime) ran in this capacity during the years from 1974 to 1996. In 1996 it was officially privatized by the French government of President Chirac and Prime Minister Alain Juppé.
Over the 22 years of operating the freight and container transport services in multiple international trade routes, CGM ran a fleet of dry bulk ships, and a number of oil tankers and Liquefied Natural Gas (LNG) tankers. At the time, the company headquarters were located in the suburbs of Paris , initially in Paris-La Defense, then later shifting to Suresnes.
The German based Hapag-Lloyd shipping company comes in at number 5 on our list of the world’s largest container shipping companies.Hapag-Lloyd was created in 1970 when the Hamburg-American Line (HAPAG) and North German Lloyd were merged under the new entity of Hapag-Lloyd AG.
Hapag-Lloyd AG boasts an impressive fleet of 253 vessels with a cargo volume 11.9 million TEU transported per annum. The company counts more than 400 offices located in 137 countries.
1847: The creation of the Hapag-Lloyd AG shipping company originates back inthe 19th century, when the parent companies of Hamburg-Amerikanische Packetfahrt-Actien-Gesellschaft (Hapag) and the North German Lloyd shipping company started their first general cargo and passenger routes to New York, USA.
- Hapag-Lloyd expands its container fleet by adding 300,000 TEU. in capacity. The company ordered six new mega-ships of 23,500+ TEU to help meet the demand for increased shipping following the global pandemic.. By year end of 2021, Hapag-Lloyd’s shipping fleet comprises 253 vessels with a total transport capacity of 1.8 million TEU.
The future of the global container shipping industry
What will be the trends and innovations in the coming years in the global container shipping industry? Will major lines continue to grow by acquiring monitor carriers? Will the global emphasis on green energy be a catalyst for new developments in technology? Check back on conexdepot.com for more articles on the container shipping industry.