MSC closes in on Maersk as largest operator of containership tonnage

Mediterranean Shipping Co is on track to overtake 2M alliance partner Maersk as the world’s largest container line by capacity deployed if it continues with its aggressive acquisition policy.

MSC operates a fleet of 587 boxships comprising 3.9m teu, while Maersk’s 711 ships have an aggregate capacity of 4.1m teu, figures from Alphaliner show. The capacity gap between the two stands at just 234,000 teu.

MSC’s orderbook stands at nearly 660,000 teu, mainly consisting of ultra-large tonnage, compared with Maersk, which has only 42,000 teu of smaller tonnage on order.

“MSC’s pipeline could grow even further, since a number of big newbuildings are believed to be joining the MSC fleet under long-term charters that have yet to be confirmed,” Alphaliner said. “Maersk, meanwhile, is not expected to place any large orders soon.”

Since August, MSC has purchased well over 30 ships, in the size range of 925 teu to 8,500 teu,” said Alphaliner. “While these acquisitions add to MSC’s fleet growth, the overall capacity effect is rather limited, since most of the larger units were already on charter to MSC when the carrier acquired them.

Nevertheless, buying these ships at the right moment permitted MSC to avoid paying the rapidly increasing charters for this tonnage.

Unlike Maersk, which has achieved much of its size in the market through the acquisition of other carriers, such as Sea-Land, P&O Nedlloyd and Hamburg Süd, MSC’s growth has been organic, with the Geneva-based line preferring to develop under its own steam.