2016 was a turbulent year for the container shipping industry. Amongst the top ten global carriers there have been countless alliance reshuffles, an inevitable bankruptcy and poignant mergers.

We take a closer look at the evolution of carriers since 2000 and how last year’s events have left the global container market moving into 2017.


It’s amazing to consider that in January 2000 the three leading shipping lines Maersk Sealand, Evergreen and P&O Nedlloyd held a combined market share of 23.7%, when compared with today’s figures. According to Alphaliner the three leading carriers Maersk, MSC and CMA CGM now hold a total of 39.9% of global capacity. *This figure only set to increase as Maersk’s acquisition of Hamburg Süd completes at the end of 2017, taking the top three to a dominant 42.8% of global capacity share.


Top 3 Combined Market Share Then: January 2000


Top 3 Combined Market Share Now: January 2016*

Global Container Market Share 2000-2016
Maersk have prioritised organic growth through acquisitions, confirmed in a 2016 statement and the recent acquisition of Hamburg Süd, the world’s 7th largest container line. Ever since running into difficulties after the purchase of Royal P&O Nedlloyd (that saw their market share shrink by 2%) Maersk have only grown their global fleet.

MSC and CMA CGMs growth over the past 16 years has been impressive for different reasons. The CMA CGM group growing through multiple high profile acquisitions and MSC demonstrating consistent organic growth with only two small takeovers.


Merger / acquisitions timeline

1999 Safmarine & Sea-land Service

2002 Torm Liner Service

2005 Royal P&O Nedlloyd

2006 Mercosul Line

2016 Hamburg Süd

2003  WEC services

2006 HMS services

1998 CMA CGM bought the liner division of ANL

2002 MacAndrews services

2005 Delmas and SudCargos

2007 Cheng Lie Navigation, CoMaNav and US Lines

2016 APL / NOL

Where’d all the liners go?

After revisiting Alphaliner’s report the evolution of carrier fleets 1996-2012’ it’s fascinating to see the ghosts of carriers past, blighted by bankruptcy or absorbed by global leaders.

The trend to consolidations and acquisitions has had a significant impact on the number of container lines on the market. For direct shippers and cargo owners, mergers have not been the only concern when looking for fair market rates. Alliances formed by the leading global carriers have only heightened worries over price fixing and concentrated schedules have dramatically reduced consumer choice.

With the top 3 suppliers operating at a 42% market share the container market is now the definition of an oligopoly. According to Drewry, “this trend will continue as the leading five carriers have the largest order books and, as history has shown, the biggest appetite to acquire other carriers.” 

Sources: Alphaliner, Drewry, WSJ 

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