World’s 11 Largest Shipping Lines Revealed

argest shipping container lines

“How can I arrange overseas shipping of my container?” That’s a common question I hear from customers buying a container from us.

There will certainly be a freight forwarding agent in your local area who can help with this. Google is going to be your friend here.

But what if you wanted to take a deeper dive  — who exactly are the world’s shipping lines moving cargo from A to B?

In this post I’ll be sharing some of the largest with you. First though, a little background for the history buff in you:

The History of Shipping Container Lines

It’s 1956, and the first modern day container ship has been built. The design was based on earlier ships, but modern container shipping using large metal containers did not start until this time.

Before then, manufacturers would pack their products onto ships in containers that weren’t uniform in size. But by 1961, the International Organization for Standardization had standardized the size of shipping containers.

These containers allow ships to carry products without using holds, hatches, and dividers. This streamlines the transportation process, making packing and unpacking ships simpler because it’s been standardized.

Today’s standard containers come in sizes of 20 feet, 40 feet and 45 feet. Because these standards are international, containers can easily be used by different shipping companies, as well as being transported by trucks and trains.

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Since the same containers and equipment can be used by each company, and the loading and unloading process is easier, we as the consumer saves money because the product is cheaper to ship.

Of course, the cost goes down even further if the container ships are larger, since more products can be sent at once. And as shipping container lines grow, they can drive prices down even more, thanks to the economies of scale.

That’s one reason why some of these shipping container lines have grown so large in size.

Let’s take a closer look at the world’s biggest shipping lines.

1. A.P. Moller-Maersk Group

This Danish business conglomerate doesn’t just “do” container shipping. It’s also involved in broader logistics and energy. Maersk is separated into two divisions: one for energy, and the other for transport and logistics.

Since 1996, it has been the biggest of the world’s shipping container lines. The company, based in Copenhagen, has a whopping 88,000 employees, with offices in 130 countries.

Maersk was founded in 1904, so it has had plenty of time to grow to this impressive size. Originally, it was a steamship business.

The company has more than 600 vessels, some of which are among the biggest container ships in the world. With 16.4 percent of the market share in the shipping container industry, this is the biggest shipping container line by a long shot.

2. Mediterranean Shipping Company

The world’s second-largest shipping container line is the Mediterranean Shipping Company.

It has almost 500 vessels, and operates in every major port around the world. Although headquartered in Geneva, the most important port for MSC is in Antwerp, Belgium.

In addition to container shipping, there is also a division of the company involved in holiday cruises.

MSC was founded in Naples in 1970. Captain Gianluigi Aponte started the company after buying his first ship. Soon, Aponte bought a second ship and started a container shipping line from the Mediterranean to Somalia. He grew the company by buying second-hand ships.

In the late 1970s, the company expanded to Africa, northern Europe, and even the Indian Ocean.

Today, MSC has 480 offices in 150 countries, and more than 24,000 employees. At 14.7 percent of the market share, this business holds another large portion of the world’s shipping business.

3. CMA CGM

Third in the world’s biggest shipping container lines is CMA CGM. This French company uses 420 ports in 150 countries, with 200 different routes for shipping.

The main CMA CGM headquarters is in Marseille, but the company also has headquarters in North America.

CMA CGM is a French acronym. Translated to English, it means “Maritime Freighting Company – General Maritime Company.”

This company is even older than the two shipping container lines we’ve looked at already. CMA CGM was started in the mid-1800s. It was born out of two companies that were originally backed by the French State. Now, it has 29,000 employees worldwide, and 11.6 of the container shipping market share.

4. China COSCO Shipping

This Chinese business conglomerate is headquartered in Shanghai, and is also involved in a variety of other sectors. In addition to container shipping, China COSCO also operates finance services, equipment manufacturing, and logistics.

China COSCO was officially founded in 2016, when COSCO Group and China Shipping Group merged. These two large companies created an even bigger one that now holds 8.4 percent of the container shipping market share.

5. Evergreen Marine

Evergreen Marine is a Taiwanese container shipping line.

This company has its headquarters in Luzhu District, Taoyuan City, Taiwan, but is a global company with routes from the Far East to North and Central America, Australia, South America, South Africa, and more.

Evergreen has more than 150 container ships and uses 240 ports in 80 countries around the world.

The business was founded in 1968 by Yung-Fa Chang, a billionaire and chairman of the company. At the time of writing it holds 4.9 percent of the market share.

6. Hapag-Lloyd

This transportation company is multi-national, but based in Germany.

It was created in 1970, when two transportation and maritime companies in Germany merged. Many other mergers since have made this the sixth-largest of the world’s shipping container lines.

Now, this company has 4.7 percent of the industry market share, and also transacts business in tourism and cruises.

7. Orient Overseas Container Line

This container shipping business is based in Hong Kong and does logistics in addition to shipping.

OOCL has over 300 offices in 70 countries worldwide. It also operates 57 vessels of different capacities. The company even has two ice-class vessels for shipping in extreme weather conditions.

This company has a strong focus on environmentalism. For example, before it was required by international treaty, OOCL had already redesigned its refrigeration machinery to get rid of dangerous CFCs.

This ethical shipping container business has 3.3 percent of the market share.

8. Hamburg Sud

Technically, Hamburg Sud is a part of the Maersk Group, the largest shipping container line on this list. However, the company is still ranked on most lists of the biggest shipping container lines in the world.

This company dates back to 1871, when 11 merchant houses in Hamburg established the business. At first, it was comprised of three steamships which sent goods to Argentina and Brazil each month.

Now, Hamburg Sud is the eighth-largest container shipping business in the world, with 2.9 percent market share.

9. Yang Ming Marine Transport Corporation

Based in Taiwan, this shipping company is frequently reported as being founded in 1972, but it has a history dating back much further.

Yang Ming merged with the China Merchants Steam Navigation Company, which actually traces its history back to the late Qing Dynasty. Now, Yang Ming has 84 container ships and a logistics unit as well, clocking in at 2.8 percent market share.

10. NYK Line

NYK line is tied with Yang Ming, at another 2.8 percent of the industry market share.

NYK is short for Nippon Yusen Kabushiki Kaisha. This Japanese company is actually one of the oldest shipping container lines in the world. It has 800 ships in its fleet, but not all of them are container ships, which is why it ranks 10th on this list.

Its history goes back to the Tsukumo Shokai Shipping Company, founded in 1870. After a few name changes and mergers, the company landed finally on its present name.

11. Mitsui O.S.K. Lines

Mitsui is another Japanese shipping company with headquarters in Tokyo.

It was founded in 1964, and has gone through many changes over the years since. Mitsui has 2.4 percent market share of the shipping container industry.

Where Can I Buy an Affordable Shipping Container?

Now that you have the low down on some of the biggest shipping lines, you might be wondering where you can buy a container from.

Short answer: Right here.

Adaptainer stock new and used shipping container options in various sizes. Request pricing here.