Top 5 World’s Largest Container Shipping Companies from GregCortezz's blog

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.  shipping containers for sale Atlanta

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,
Source: Wikipedia


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.

1) Maersk

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.
Source Wikipedia

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 LineThis 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.

Previous post     
     Next post
     Blog home

The Wall

No comments
You need to sign in to comment