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MSC is now the world’s largest container line. Picture: BLOOMBERG
MSC is now the world’s largest container line. Picture: BLOOMBERG

AP Moller-Maersk is no longer the world’s largest container line.

The Danish carrier has been overtaken by Mediterranean Shipping (MSC) in terms of capacity, according to data compiled by Alphaliner and published on Wednesday. MSC’s fleet can carry 4,284,728 standard 20-foot containers, 1,888 more than Maersk, giving both a market share of 17%. 

Maersk, which first entered containerised trade in 1975, has held the top spot for decades. The carrier has been a pioneer in the industry, often breaking records by building the biggest ships. More recently, it has invested in vessels that can sail on carbon-neutral methanol. It still has the most capacity in terms of owned vessels: MSC has about 65% of its capacity from chartered ships whereas Maersk only has 42%.

After struggling to make money for much of the past decade, the container shipping industry has had its most profitable year as pandemic-driven demand for consumer goods strains capacity on vessels. Ocean freight rates gained 81% in 2021, measured by the Shanghai containerised freight index.

Maersk CEO Soren Skou in December reiterated that the number one spot isn’t important for the Copenhagen-based company, which is focusing investments on expanding its land-based logistics where profit margins are higher. 

“It does not mean anything,” he said. “The important thing for us is to grow with our clients” by enticing existing customers to buy logistics services from Maersk rather than its rivals with an expanded offering in land transport, he said.

Closely held MSC, which is based in Geneva, has since 2020 been run by Soren Toft, formerly heir apparent at Maersk. While the poaching of a potential future CEO could sour relations between companies, Maersk and MSC still work together in areas such as a vessel-sharing partnership and a blockchain-based platform for sharing and streamlining shipping information.

More stories like this are available on Bloomberg.com


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