Which Three International Shipping Firms Monopolize the Market?

According to Alphaliner, the top three big shipping firms in the world are currently A.P. Moller-Maersk Group, Mediterranean Shipping Company (MSC) and CMA CGM Group.

Comparisons of these global freight companies are measured in TEUs (Twenty-foot Equivalent Units) which is the number of 20-foot shipping containers (or the equivalent) an international shipping company has the capacity to carry at one time.

Many of the world’s biggest shipping companies belong to one of three top shipping alliances which represent over 77% of global container movement and 96% of East-West trade. As of 1 April 2017, Maersk and MSC make up the 2M Alliance, while CMA CGM is part of the Ocean Alliance, along with Evergreen, OOCL and COSCO.

Here’s how the top three big shipping companies are compared, including their history, global data, fleet and annual revenue.

A.P. Moller-Maersk Group: The Largest Global Shipping Company

Operating under the abbreviated name of Maersk Line, A.P. Moller-Maersk Group is one of the top shipping firms when it comes to international freight and cargo. Not only does it have the most TEUs at 3,012,172, it also has the most ships (590) and consequently the biggest revenue at US$40.3 billion.

This top Danish shipping company has been operating since 1904, and has 89,000 employees with 324 offices representing their interests in 115 countries. It ships goods valued at around $675 billion in a fleet that includes five of the largest container ships in the world.

These Maersk Triple E Class vessels can each carry more than 18,000 TEU. Although they are super-efficient in terms of energy and economy of scale, these super-ships are currently too wide to traverse the Panama Canal, measuring 400 metres long and 59 metres wide.

Maersk Line offers a wide variety of global shipping services including:

  • Dry cargo
  • Containers (20-foot, 40-foot and 45-foot in length)
  • Reefer cargo (refrigerated shipping containers)
  • Special cargo (out of gauge, in gauge and break bulk cargo)
  • Full transport services on land
  • Storage

Mediterranean Shipping Company S.A.: The Largest Privately Owned Shipping Firm

With its head office in Geneva, Switzerland, the Mediterranean Shipping Company S.A. (MSC) was founded in Naples by Gianluigi Aponte in 1970.

It is the second biggest shipping firm after Maersk Line, and is the largest privately-owned shipping company. It is still run by the Aponte family. In terms of size, it has a capacity of 2,659,489 TEU and US$28.2 billion revenue.

MSC operates in 315 ports with 480 offices spread throughout 150 countries. Its fleet of container ships includes four of the world’s largest container ships, making it arguably one of the best international freight firms. Each of these ships can carry over 19,000 standard 20-foot containers.

MSC offers a wide range of global shipping services including:

  • Dry cargo
  • Containers (20-foot and 40-foot long and 40-foot cube)
  • Reefer cargo (refrigerated shipping containers)
  • Special cargo (out of gauge and break bulk cargo)
  • Door-to-door transport services on land
  • Storage and warehousing services (container and cargo)
  • Cross Trading
  • Cargo Trailers
  • Container Equipment

CMA CGM Group: The Newest of the Top Three Shipping Companies

Based in Marseille, France, the CMA CGM Group has 1,799,291 TEU, making it one of the three big shipping firms in the world.

It is also the youngest of these top shipping companies, founded as CMA in 1978 and growing to its current capacity with 471 ships in the fleet. The current annual revenue is US$15.7 billion.

CMA CGM stands for “Compagnie Maritime d’Affrètement –  Compagnie Générale Maritime” which was formed in 1999 when CMA merged with CGM. It operates in 420 ports in 160 countries with 765 offices around the world.

The largest ship operated by CMA CGM is the Georg Forster which can accommodate 18,000 standard 20-foot containers, or the equivalent.

Global shipping services provided by CMA CGM include:

  • Dry cargo
  • Containers (20-foot, 40-foot and 45-foot long and pallet-wide)
  • Special containers (flat-rack, open-top, open-side, platform and tank)
  • Reefer cargo (refrigerated shipping containers)
  • XXL cargo (non-standard cargo, luxury cars, helicopters, large machinery, turbines and break bulk cargo)
  • Door-to-door transport services by rail, road and river
  • Aquaviva (shipping live lobsters door-to-door)
  • RORO (Roll-On, Roll-Off)
  • Cargo Cruises (passengers sharing the experience with cargo and crew)

While other top shipping companies such as Hapag-Lloyd, Evergreen Marine, COSCO, Hanjin Shipping and Hamburg Sud Group are impressively sized, presently the three big shipping firms listed above continue to monopolize global shipping industry.

*All data provided by Alphaliner and

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