Container lines - Statistics & Facts

Container ships transported 863 million twenty-foot equivalent units (TEU) worth of goods from port to port in 2019. The industry is dominated by a selected few who utilize economies of scale to provide cost-effective transportation of a wide range of goods. Massive ships are capable of moving cargo more efficiently per unit weight than other conventional modes of transport such as airplanes. The largest companies operate fleets with capacities well over a million TEUs. The containerization and standardization of container shipping in the 1950s brought rapid increases in the efficiency of trade. CMA CGM, COSCO, MSC, and Maersk are the leading companies in this field.

Four operators account for over half of the world’s container fleet. CMA CGM with roughly 11 percent of the world’s container fleet is based in Marseille. COSCO holds a share of around 12 percent, making it the largest container liner in China. Mediterranean Shipping Company operates 16 percent of the global merchant fleet. The company is headquartered in Geneva and owns the largest container ship built to date. The largest container company is Maersk Line, controlling 17 percent of the fleet. Container line operators also form alliances amongst each other: 2M, Ocean Alliance, and the Alliance. These alliances aim to maximize capacity utilization and also offer vessel sharing to its members.

In 2020, the largest risks for shipping companies are trade wars, an economic downturn, climate change, and the Covid-19 pandemic, experienced foremost by China. Container shipping is a major source of anthropogenic carbon dioxide contributing to climate change. Aware of the restrictions that may necessarily be imposed on the container fleet, some liners have belatedly begun investing in carbon neutral technologies. The use of carbon neutral energy sources on ships is expected to overtake bunker fuel in the next few years.

* The abbreviation TEU stands for twenty-foot equivalent unit, a standard unit of measure in the shipping industry.

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