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Economy 101: The 10 Biggest Shipping Companies in the World

Suez Canal Shipping Trade Economy Container

Shipping plays a crucial role in the global economy, facilitating the movement of goods and connecting businesses across continents. In 2021, the biggest news in international trade was the incident of a large container ship getting stuck at the Suez Canal, disrupting shipping for 6 days. Image source: The New York Times

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Shipping Ship Engineering Sea

Container ships are cargo ships that carry all of their load in standardized containers, usually 20 or 40 feet long. These containers can be easily transferred from ship to truck or train, and vice versa, making intermodal freight transport more efficient and cost-effective. Container ships have reduced the shipping time and costs of traditional break-bulk cargoes significantly, and have become the dominant mode of transporting non-bulk goods. Image source: Sliding Motion

Key Ship Measurements

Capacity Measurement

One of the most important specifications of a container ship is its capacity, measured in twenty-foot equivalent units (TEUs). This is the number of standard 20-foot containers that a ship can carry on board.

The capacity of container ships has increased dramatically over the years, as shipbuilders and operators have sought to take advantage of economies of scale and reduce fuel consumption per container. The first container ships in the 1950s had a capacity of less than 1,000 TEUs, while today’s largest container ships can carry up to 24,000 TEUs or more.

Length Measurement

Another key specification of a container ship is its length, which determines how many containers can be stacked along the ship’s hull. The length of container ships is also limited by the availability of ports and terminals that can accommodate them, as well as by certain waterways such as the Suez Canal and the Panama Canal that restrict the maximum size of a ship that can pass through them. The longest container ships in service today are about 400 metres long, which is equivalent to four football fields.

Beam Measurement

The width or beam of a container ship is another important dimension, as it affects how many containers can be loaded across the ship’s deck. The width of container ships is also constrained by the size of the locks in some canals, such as the Panama Canal. The widest container ships currently in operation have a beam of about 61 metres, which allows them to carry 24 rows of containers on deck.

Draught Measurement

The draught or draft of a container ship is the vertical distance between the waterline and the bottom of the hull. This indicates how deep a ship sinks into the water when fully loaded, and how much clearance it needs to navigate shallow waters. The draught of container ships is usually around 15 to 16 metres, but it can vary depending on the load and the water density.

MISC LNG Carrier Shipping Ship Malaysia

Liquefied natural gas (natural gas mostly methane) tankers are special ships that carry natural gas in liquid form, which is much more compact and convenient than gas form. LNG is natural gas that has been cooled down to -162°C and at this temperature, the natural gas turns into a clear, colourless, and non-toxic liquid that takes up about 1/600th of the volume of natural gas in gas form. This means that LNG can be stored and transported more easily and safely than natural gas in pipelines. Image source: The Star

Malaysia National Carrier

Malaysia is a country with a long maritime tradition and a strategic location in Southeast Asia has a vibrant shipping industry that contributes to its economic development and international trade. Malaysian national shipping company is MISC Berhad formerly known as Malaysia International Shipping Corporation Berhad.

MISC was founded in 1968 by Robert Kuok at the request of the Malaysian government. Kuok, who had no experience in the business, sought the help of the Hong Kong-Chinese shipping magnate, Frank Tsao who had established shipping and textiles businesses in Hong Kong, Malaysia, Singapore and Thailand. He also helped build Singapore into an international shipping hub.

MISC Berhad started as a conventional liner operator, but soon diversified into other segments of the shipping industry, such as energy transportation, offshore floating solutions, marine repair and conversion, integrated marine services, port management and maritime education and training. The company’s main shareholder is Petroliam Nasional Berhad (Petronas), the national oil conglomerate of Malaysia.

MISC Berhad is a specialist in energy transportation, especially liquefied natural gas (LNG) and petroleum products. The company has a fleet of more than 100 owned and in-chartered vessels with a combined deadweight tonnage capacity of over 13 million tonnes. With 29 LNG carriers, it is currently one of the world’s leading operators of LNG fleets. The company also operates through its wholly owned subsidiary AET, which is one of the leading global tanker operators and a market leader in lightering operations for US Gulf ship-to-ship transfers.

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The company has also ventured into offshore business, offering customers a full scope of offshore floating facility services – from design to operations. The company has expertise in floating production systems (FPS), floating storage and offloading (FSO) units, floating storage regasification units (FSRU), tension leg platforms (TLP) and semi-submersible platforms. The company also provides marine repair, marine conversion, engineering and construction for a wide spectrum of oil & gas production facilities through its subsidiary Malaysia Marine and Heavy Engineering Sdn Bhd (MMHE).

MISC Berhad also owns and operates several subsidiaries that provide integrated marine services, port management and maritime education and training. These include Pacific Selatan Agency Sdn Bhd (PSA), which offers ship agency services, freight forwarding, warehousing and logistics; MISC Integrated Logistics Sdn Bhd (MILS), which provides integrated supply chain solutions; MISC Maritime Services Sdn Bhd (MMS), which manages port terminals and facilities; and Akademi Laut Malaysia (ALAM), which is a premier maritime training institution.

Top 10 Shipping Companies

The following are the top 10 shipping companies by their container capacity and fleet size, based on data from Alphaliner as of January 2024.

#1 Mediterranean Shipping Company (MSC)

  • Country: Swiss-Italian
  • Fleet: 801 Ships
  • Capacity: 5.7 million TEU
  • Market Share: 19.9%

MSC is a Swiss-Italian shipping company that operates a fleet of 740 container ships with a total capacity of 4.8 million TEU (twenty-foot equivalent units). MSC is the largest container shipping company in the world, with a market share of 18.2%. MSC also offers intermodal transport, terminal operations, logistics, and cruise services. MSC’s revenue for the trailing 12 months (TTM) was $82.22 billion, and its net income was $30.34 billion.

#2 Maersk

  • Country: Denmark
  • Fleet: 676 Ships
  • Capacity: 4.2 million TEU
  • Market Share: 14.6%

Maersk is a Danish shipping company that operates a fleet of 696 container ships with a total capacity of 4.2 million TEU. Maersk is the second-largest container shipping company in the world, with a market share of 15.8%. Maersk also provides terminal operations, logistics, oil and gas exploration, and industrial businesses. Maersk’s revenue for the TTM was $63.94 billion, and its net income was $18.09 billion.

Shipping Economy Maersk Trade Port

Marseille Maersk, one of the largest container vessels belongs to the Maersk shipping company and was built in 2018 by Daewoo Shipbuilding & Marine Engineering in South Korea, it is part of the second generation of Maersk’s Triple E class, which stands for Economy of scale, Energy efficiency and Environmentally improved. It has a capacity of 20,568 TEU which is equivalent to 11,000 cars. It can sail at a maximum speed of 23 knots (about 42 km/h or 26 mph), and it has a range of 25,000 nautical miles (about 46,000 km or 29,000 miles) without refuelling. Image source: Wikipedia

#3 CMA CGM

  • Country: France
  • Fleet: 629 Ships
  • Capacity: 3.6 million TEU
  • Market Share: 12.7%

CMA CGM is a French shipping company that operates a fleet of 623 container ships with a total capacity of 3.4 million TEU. CMA CGM is the third-largest container shipping company in the world, with a market share of 12.8%. CMA CGM also owns several subsidiaries, such as APL, ANL, Containerships, and Mercosul Line. CMA CGM’s revenue for the TTM was $36.66 billion, and its net income was $18.63 billion.

#4 COSCO Shipping Lines

  • Country: China
  • Fleet: 494 Ships
  • Capacity: 3.1 million TEU
  • Market Share: 10.8%

COSCO Shipping Lines is a Chinese shipping company that operates a fleet of 464 container ships with a total capacity of 2.9 million TEU. COSCO Shipping Lines is the fourth-largest container shipping company in the world, with a market share of 10.9%. COSCO Shipping Lines also includes China Shipping Container Lines, Orient Overseas Container Line, Shanghai Pan Asia Shipping, and Coheung. COSCO Shipping Lines’ revenue for the TTM was $20.91 billion, and its net income was $10.47 billion.

#5 Hapag-Lloyd

  • Country: Germany
  • Fleet: 269 Ships
  • Capacity: 2.0 million TEU
  • Market Share: 6.9%

Hapag-Lloyd is a German shipping company that operates a fleet of 246 container ships with a total capacity of 1.8 million TEU. Hapag-Lloyd is the fifth-largest container shipping company in the world, with a market share of 6.8%. Hapag-Lloyd also offers air, road, rail, and inland waterway transport services. Hapag-Lloyd’s revenue for the TTM was $12.06 billion, and its net income was $6.05 billion.

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One of the biggest nightmares of all mariners is running into a storm and losing a couple of containers into the deep sea. Obviously with modern technology,  satellite data and precise navigation tools, one can avoid getting into the severest type of storm. However, sometimes the weather can be unpredictable and even the best equipment can fail.

#6 Ocean Network Express (ONE)

  • Country: Japan
  • Fleet: 233 Ships
  • Capacity: 1.8 million TEU
  • Market Share: 6.3%

ONE is a Japanese shipping company that operates a fleet of 206 container ships with a total capacity of 1.5 million TEU. ONE is the seventh-largest container shipping company in the world, with a market share of 5.8%. ONE was formed in 2017 by the merger of three Japanese shipping companies: Nippon Yusen Kaisha (NYK Line), Mitsui O.S.K. Lines (MOL), and Kawasaki Kisen Kaisha (K Line). ONE’s revenue for the TTM was $6.74 billion, and its net income was $3.37 billion.

#7 Evergreen Marine Corporation

  • Country: Taiwan
  • Fleet: 211 Ships
  • Capacity: 1.6 million TEU
  • Market Share: 5.8%

Evergreen Marine Corporation is a Taiwanese shipping company that operates a fleet of 213 container ships with a total capacity of 1.7 million TEU. Evergreen Marine Corporation is the sixth-largest container shipping company in the world, with a market share of 6.3%. Evergreen Marine Corporation also owns Italia Marittima and Uniglory Marine. Evergreen Marine Corporation’s revenue for the TTM was $7.83 billion, and its net income was $3.92 billion.

Ever Given Shipping Suez Canal Evergreen Transport

Probably one of Evergreen Marine Corporation’s most famous ships in recent years, the Ever Given is one of the largest ships in the world, measuring 400 meters long and 59 meters wide, and capable of carrying more than 20,000 containers. The ship was built by Imabari Shipbuilding in Japan and completed in 2018. The ship became famous in March 2021, when it got stuck in the Suez Canal, blocking the vital waterway for six days. After this incident, it remains continue operating for Evergreen Marine, as one of their flagship vessels. Image source: CNN

#8 HMM Co. Ltd.

  • Country: South Korea
  • Fleet: 70 Ships
  • Capacity: 0.8 million TEU
  • Market Share: 2.7%

HMM Co. Ltd., formerly known as Hyundai Merchant Marine, is a South Korean shipping company that operates a fleet of 75 container ships with a total capacity of 816,365 TEU. HMM Co. Ltd. is the eighth-largest container shipping company in the world, with a market share of 3.1%. HMM Co. Ltd. also provides logistics, shipbuilding, and engineering services. HMM Co. Ltd.’s revenue for the TTM was $5.88 billion, and its net income was $2.94 billion.

#9 Yang Ming Marine Transport Corporation

  • Country: Taiwan
  • Fleet: 94 Ships
  • Capacity: 0.7 million TEU
  • Market Share: 2.5%

Yang Ming Marine Transport Corporation is a Taiwanese shipping company that operates a fleet of 93 container ships with a total capacity of 705,614 TEU. Yang Ming Marine Transport Corporation is the ninth-largest container shipping company in the world, with a market share of 2.7%. Yang Ming Marine Transport Corporation also offers intermodal transport and logistics services. Yang Ming Marine Transport Corporation’s revenue for the TTM was $4.91 billion, and its net income was $2.46 billion.

#10 Zim Integrated Shipping Services (ZIM)

  • Country: Israel
  • Fleet: 124 Ships
  • Capacity: 0.6 million TEU
  • Market Share: 2.2%

ZIM is an Israeli shipping company that operates a fleet of 138 container ships with a total capacity of 566,935 TEU. ZIM is the tenth-largest container shipping company in the world, with a market share of 2.1%. ZIM also provides cargo tracking, e-commerce, and digital solutions for its customers. ZIM’s revenue for the TTM was $4.28 billion, and its net income was $2.14 billion.

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One of the most impressive ships ever built was the Seawise Giant, an oil tanker that operated from 1979 to 2009. The ship had a massive gross tonnage of 260,941 gross tonnes and could carry up to 564,763 tonnes of oil. The ship was powered by a single propeller, 30 ft in diameter, that gave it a speed of 16 knots (30 km/h; 18 mph). The ship required a lot of space to manoeuvre, as it took 9 km to stop from cruising speed and had a turning circle of 3 km. The ship had a crew of 35 people who managed its operations.

Final Say

The shipping industry is a dynamic and competitive sector that plays a crucial role in global trade and economic development. The top 10 shipping companies in the world have a combined fleet size of 3,540 ships and a total capacity of 22.6 million TEU, accounting for more than 85% of the global container market share.

The shipping industry is responsible for transporting goods and commodities across the oceans and seas, connecting different regions and markets around the world. It is a vital part of the global economy, as it facilitates international trade and contributes to the development of many countries.

However, the shipping industry also faces various risks and uncertainties, such as fluctuations in demand and supply, environmental regulations, geopolitical tensions, piracy, cyberattacks, and more. To survive and thrive in this industry, shipping companies need to have a large and efficient fleet of ships, as well as offer a range of services and solutions that can cater to the diverse and changing needs of their customers and partners.

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