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Container lines - statistics & facts

Global trade relies heavily on container shipping to move goods around the world. In 2020 alone, around 775 million twenty-foot equivalent units (TEU) worth of containerized goods were handled at ports worldwide. Due to the containerization and standardization of container shipping in the 1950s, container shipping has become the most cost-effective way of transporting cargo over vast distances. Massive ships are capable of moving goods more efficiently per unit weight than other conventional modes of transport, such as airplanes and trucks. The container shipping industry is dominated by a few companies that utilize economies of scale to provide cost-effective transportation of a wide range of goods. The largest companies operate fleets with capacities well over a million TEUs.

Biggest container ship operators

Four container ship operators – APM-Maersk, Mediterranean Shipping Company, CMA CGM, and COSCO – accounted for over half of the world’s container fleet capacity in 2020. The largest container company was APM-Maersk that year, controlling around 17 percent of the global fleet. The combined capacity of Maersk’s ships reached almost 4.2 million TEUs in 2020. Mediterranean Shipping Company operated over 16 percent of the world’s container fleet. The company is headquartered in Geneva and owns the largest container ship built to date. The Marseille-based company CMA CGM controlled roughly 12 percent of the global fleet. The total capacity of CMA CGM’s container vessels exceeded three million TEUs in 2020. COSCO’s container fleet accounted for around 12 percent of the world’s fleet, making it the largest container liner in China. 
Container line operators form alliances amongst each other to maximize capacity utilization and offer vessel sharing to their members. Currently, there are three main alliances – 2M Alliance, Ocean Alliance, and THE Alliance – dominating the industry. The market share of these shipping alliances between 2017 and 2021. Ocean Alliance and 2M Alliance each controlled around 29 percent of the global shipping market, while THE Alliance had a 17-percent market share.

Impact of the Covid-19 pandemic

The Covid-19 pandemic disrupted supply chains and negatively affected the shipping industry in the first half of 2020. The volume of container trade declined and blank sailings became more frequent. Just in May 2020, there were some 260 blank sailings reported worldwide, an increase of around 265 percent compared with the pre-pandemic January 2020. With the resuming of production in China in the second half of 2020, the demand for shipping increased significantly. However, the situation remains complicated even throughout 2021. Due to port congestions, the global shortage of new containers, as well as the six-day-long blockage of the Suez Canal – one of the major maritime chokepoints – by a container ship, container freight rates have been dramatically rising.

Interesting statistics

In the following 5 chapters, you will quickly find the 39 most important statistics relating to "Container lines worldwide".

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