Vessel-hungry MSC set to take Maersk’s crown as world’s largest box line

Based on box ship orderbooks and its aggressive purchasing in the second-hand market, MSC is set to usurp 2M partner Maersk next year to become the world’s largest container line.

According to Alphaliner data, the capacity gap between the two carriers currently stands at around 225,000 teu, with the Danish carrier operating a fleet of 709 ships for 4,121,964 teu, while MSC’s 588-ship fleet has a capacity of 3,897,002 teu.

However, the consultant said, MSC’s two-pronged owned fleet growth strategy of hoovering up second-hand tonnage alongside its large orderbook will see Maersk become the junior partner in the 2M alliance “sometime in 2022”.

MSC has purchased more than 30 second-hand ships, ranging from 925 teu to 8,500 teu, since last August. It is also one of the most active carriers in the charter market, where broker sources have told The Loadstar the company had adopted a “whatever it takes” policy.

Moreover, CEO Soren Skou has on a number of occasions said the carrier was “happy” with a fleet capacity of 4m teu, choosing instead to invest in extending its reach into supply chain logistics.

“MSC’s path to the number-one spot in liner shipping has been one of organic growth, whereas Maersk owes its top ranking to the takeover of Sealand (in 1999), P&O Nedlloyd (2005) and Hamburg Süd (2017),” said Alphaliner.

While the 2M partners appear to be comfortable with their vessel sharing alliance, both have shown during the demand peaks of the pandemic that they are prepared to go it alone, outside their east-west cooperation, to service particular market demand.

For example, Alphaliner reports that MSC has deployed its 13,102 teu MSC Cristina on a transatlantic ad-hoc round-trip in order to meet the booming demand on the tradelane for exports from North Europe to the US, not covered by the joint 2M loaders, as well as to evacuate urgently needed empty equipment.