[Updated for 2023] Container shipping is one of the most important and necessary means of cargo transportation through sea routes.
In present times, however, there is no monopoly by any container shipping companies, leading to a complete lack of friction and tension in the international cargo shipping community.
All the same, there are a few international container shipping companies that lead the race in terms of the scale of operation of their shipping lines.
Ten of these leading container shipping companies based on cargo-carrying capacity can be listed as follows:
1. MSC – Mediterranean Shipping Company
Maersk has been in the No. 1 spot since it overtook Evergreen in 1996. The domination of Maersk Line in terms of TEU capacity has been broken first time in 25 years by the Mediterranean Shipping Company (MSC).
It is a Swiss international cargo company established in the year 1970. With a buying spree of the new and old vessels, MSC added almost 100 ships to its fleet in the last year, having a vessel line-up of over 645 container ships, the conglomerate is rated to be one of the most extensive cargo companies globally with a TEU capacity of around 4,287,473 TEU.
A shipping corporation based in Denmark, Maersk Shipping Line dominated the world container shipping market holding the no.1 spot for more than 25 years. Maersk Shipping Line is an AP Moller- Maersk company branch. Widely well-known for its fleet of container ships, the Maersk Line debuted in the international container shipping arena in 1904. Now the company is diversifying its presence in the green fuel and digital technology space. Currently, the company has a fleet of around 738+ container ships with a capacity of around 4,275,542 TEU (Twenty-Foot Equivalent Units).
France’s leading container shipping company, CMA-CGM, was in the 4th spot last year (2021). With new mega-ships being added to its fleet, it is now the 3rd largest company in TEU capacity. CMA CGM came into existence in the year 1978 as a result of a series of mergers between previously established shipping corporations. Jacques Saade, the head of the company, was the instrumental force behind its coming into active operation. At present, the company has a fleet of over 568 ships operating in over 150 routes globally. It has a carrying capacity of around 3,198,217 TEU.
4. COSCO – China Ocean Shipping Company
The China Ocean Shipping Company, or COSCO, as it is popularly known, is one of the leading conglomerates in terms of container shipping companies. COSCO, pushed down to 4th position by CMA CGM this year, has its operations spread over 40 countries with a fleet of around 480 container ships with a container carrying capacity of 2,932,779 TEU. However, its order book contains an additional 5,85,000 TEU, which will be added to the company’s capacity in the coming year.
The German-based Hapag-Lloyd is one of the most renowned and well-featured companies in terms of international shipping companies. The company was established in 1970 due to a merger between the Hamburg-American Line and the North German company Lloyd. Today the shipping corporation has over 250 ships catering to about 1,743,983 TEU container carrying capacity worldwide.
6. ONE – Ocean Network Express
Established on July 7th, 2017, One Network Express integrates three major shipping companies, MOL, “K”-Line, and NYK. Setup in Japan and headquartered in Singapore, ONE was founded to strengthen services in Asia, Latin America, and Africa. The alliance of these three companies currently has a combined fleet of 209 vessels with a container carrying capacity of 1,531 530 TEU, making it one of the largest container shipping alliance companies in the world. However, compared to 2021, there is a reduction of 2% in the TEU capacity, mainly due to the reduction in the number of chartered vessels.
7. Evergreen Line
A shipping conglomerate based in Taiwan, the Evergreen Marine Corporation was founded in 1968 by Dr Yung-Fa Chang, a visionary in his own right. At present, the company has offices established worldwide and with an operational capacity of more than 204 container ships and a container carrying capacity of 1,477,644 TEU. It is regarded to be one of the largest cargo shipping companies in the world. Currently, Evergreen Line has the world’s largest container ships in its fleet.
8. Hyundai Merchant Marine
HMM Co. LTD., formerly known as Hyundai Merchant Marine, is a leading container shipping company based in South Korea. With a fleet of 75 vessels and a cargo-carrying capacity of over 819,790 TEU, HMM Co. LTD. is one of the top 10 shipping companies in the world, moving the largest portion of South Korea’s exports. Being a top integrated logistics company globally, HMM Co. LTD. plays an important role in Korea’s economic development.
9. Yang Ming Marine Transport
Based in Keelung, Taiwan, Yang Ming Marine Transport is one of the oldest and largest shipping companies globally. Established in 1972, the company provides services across Asia, Europe, America, and Australia with a fleet of around 90 vessels. It has a container carrying capacity of around 6,62,047 TEU.
10 Zim Integrated Shipping Services Ltd
Zim Integrated Shipping Services Ltd., commonly known as ZIM, is an Israeli international cargo shipping company. It was founded in 1945 as the ZIM Palestine Navigation Company Ltd. Currently, ZIM has a fleet of 111 ships with a total container carrying capacity of 4,19,064 TEUs. It has added more than 30 ships to its fleet in 2021, making it one of the top 10 container shipping companies in the world.
Container shipping is a huge industry, and these key players are aware of the minutest operational manoeuvrings necessary to power them to be the world leaders in commercial enterprise, not just in their home countries but also at an international level.
11. Orient Overseas Container Line (OOCL)
Orient Overseas Container Line, also called OOCL, is a container shipping company and also a logistics services provider based in Hong Kong.
The company, founded in 1969, has around 320 offices in more than 70 nations and operates over 300 vessels, making its TEU capacity approximately 565,113 TEUs. It also manages and operates two container terminals, namely the Long Beach Container Terminal and Kaohsiung Container Terminal.
One of the most recognised and trusted companies, OOCL provides logistics and container transportation services that encompass Asia, the Americas, Europe, Africa and Australasia.
The company’s fleet comprises some of the youngest, biggest and most fuel-efficient, eco-friendly ships in the world.
12. Pacific International Lines (PIL)
PIL is headquartered in Singapore and is one of the biggest shipowners in the Southeast Asian region. It operates around 164 container and multipurpose ships that call at more than 500 locations in 100 countries across the world.
The company was founded in 1967 and has a TEU capacity of about 347,419 TEUs and a dedicated staff of 18000 professionals. It operates from the Far East to Europe, the Black Sea region, the Red Sea, the Indian Subcontinent, Africa, Australia, New Zealand, Latin America and the western coast of the United States.
Although its core business is shipping, it is also involved in container manufacturing and providing logistics services.
13. Wan Hai Lines
Wan Hai Lines started as a log transportation company; however, it recognised the growing trends of containerisation and bought its first container vessel, the MV Ming Chun, in 1976. The company then started shipping services between Taiwan and Japan. Since that time, Wan Hai has transformed into a renowned container shipping company.
It is the only carrier in Taiwan with terminals in the island’s northern, central and southern regions. It operates 20 routes, and 15 of them call at major international commercial ports and harbours. Wan Hai owns 90 ships with a carrying capacity of 260,000 TEUs. It also operates 59 chartered vessels.
14. SITC International Holdings Co.Ltd
Founded in May 1991, SITC, based in Hong Kong, is a key shipping logistics company. It is present in different sectors of the maritime industry, such as container shipping, ship management, international freight forwarding, ship brokering, customs clearance, project logistics, warehousing, automation, informatisation etc.
The company has 108 ships, including 84 vessels, that are owned by it. These ships operate in 75 service routes covering 17 nations and 76 major ports in China, Korea, Japan, Vietnam, Singapore, Russia, India and so on.
Per statics of Alphaliner, SITC is in the 13th position among the global container shipping enterprises as of 31st December 2022. Its container transport volume in 2022 went beyond 3.262 million TEU.
15. Korea Marine Transport Co.Ltd
KMTC is based in Seoul, South Korea. It was established in 1954 and has since then become one of the biggest container shipping companies in the world.
Its container fleet consists of 50 ships with a TEU capacity of 99,373 TEU. The vessels call in India, Africa, Southeast Asia, Korea, Japan, China, and Russia.
The company’s fleet is equipped with advanced technologies and eco-friendly features making it a leader in sustainable shipping.
Apart from shipping, KMTC also provides logistics and supply chain management services. It also has a network of warehouses and distribution centres worldwide, enabling it to offer efficient logistics solutions to its clients.
16. Zhonggu Logistics Corporation
Shanghai Zhonggu Logistics Co Ltd is a company based in China. It provides its clients with customised container logistics solutions.
It integrates the railways and highway resources to create a roadways, railways and waterway network and has a multimodal transportation logistics system that is centred on water transportation. Around 1455 professionals work in the company, which operates 100 ships and has a total TEU capacity of 147,834 TEUs.
It mainly conducts business in China. Zhonggu has a holding capacity of 400,000 containers spanning over 200 ports across China. It also cooperates with renowned leasing companies like SEACO, BEACON, TEXTAINER etc.
17. X-Press Feeders
X-Press Feeders/Sea Consortium is a container shipping group headquartered in Singapore. It is the 17th biggest operator in terms of capacity, per the data published by the maritime portal Aphaliner.
It has a fleet comprising 110 vessels, of which the company owns 43. It has a total TEU capacity of 143,767 TEUs. The company provides transhipment services and serves ports in the eastern and southeastern parts of Asia, the Indian Subcontinent, Europe, the Persian Gulf and the Mediterranean.
The company was founded in 1972 and does not own boxes. In 2021, the group ordered four 7000 TEU vessels from Shanghai Waigaoqiao Shipbuilding, China, to upsize its fleet. In 2018, the group also ordered four box ships from Zhoushan Changhong International Shipyard.
18. The Islamic Republic of Iran Shipping Line Group (IRISL Group)
The Islamic Republic of Iran Shipping Line Group, called IRISL Group, is a shipping company based in Iran. It has 115 vessels, out of which some are operated by its subsidiary companies. About 6000 people work in the company, which has a TEU capacity of 136, 606 TEUs.
The company was founded in 1967 and operates in the Caspian Sea, Persian Gulf, Indian Ocean, Mediterranean Sea and the Yellow Sea. It began commercial operations by employing 2 home trade ships and 4 huge ocean-going ships.
Today, IRISL is the main maritime carrier of Iran. It has a global presence, several subsidiaries, and partners and offers a wide range of maritime transportation services, including breakbulk, bulk and containerised shipping.
Unifeeder, based in Denmark, is a Feeder and Multimodal service provider offering efficient logistics solutions to its customers across Asia, Europe, the Middle East, the Americas and Africa.
The company handles around 5.5 M TEUs annually. It was founded 40 years ago and since then has expanded a lot and has over 1100 employees. Unifeeder has over 150 ships that can be adjusted to fit the capacity needs of its clients.
Its extensive fleet of ships makes about 16,200 calls at more than 200 ports and harbours. The company acts as a crucial link for international shipping lines by increasing their reach, utilization and scale economies.
Established in 2017, SeaLead is a relatively new player in the global container shipping market and has shown tremendous growth since it started operations.
It is headquartered in Singapore and has another office in Dubai, including many agencies in crucial markets across the globe. It has a key presence in 18 nations and is privately owned. The aim of the company is to simplify international trade among major economies and key markets.
The company’s 60% of employees are females. Also, it handles 1.15 M TEUs annually, and its vessels make calls at 34 major ports. SeaLed offers services between the Far East, the Indian subcontinent, the Middle East, Africa, the Mediterranean, Oceania, the U.S., the Red Sea and Southeast Asia.
Thus, the container shipping industry is dominated by some large companies that hold a major chunk of the market share. These establishments have a great impact on global maritime trade since they connect markets, economies, continents and people.
They also act as pioneers of new trends, technologies and infrastructure which boost the growth of the container shipping sector. They prioritise their customers and strive to provide tailor-made solutions to them.
Sustainability is also a concern which is handled well by many corporations as they make strides to introduce better and more fuel-efficient ships to decrease their carbon footprint. Recently, many firms are also exploring alternative ship fuels and opting for eco-friendly vessel designs.
Given the trade disputes, supply chain disruptions and other threats, the container shipping industry is a vital part of the world economy. As the demand for products will grow in the future with the growth in world population, these companies will play an even more important role in meeting the needs of the globalised customer and businesses across the world.
Reference: Alphaliner / Individual container shipping website.
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