Large orderbooks, mega box ships and a focus on alternative fuels are the main trends for the top 20 container shipping lines
Maersk is still the largest global container carrier, with a current fleet of 4.1M TEU and a 16.8% market share of the world’s global container fleet. It has 15 ships on its orderbook, totalling 39,388 TEU.
The company reported a strong start to the year with its Q1 2021 results. Singling out the container ocean side, Maersk noted “profitability for Q1 2021 increased compared to Q1 2020 because of revenue growth driven by freight rates combined with higher volumes, mainly from increases in headhaul volumes from exports out of Asia and resulting bottlenecks and equipment shortages. Average loaded rates increased significantly, driven by higher short-term rates due to a demand surge during the quarter, as well as contracts renewing at higher rate levels.” Revenue increased to US$9.5Bn (Q1 2020 US$7.2Bn), impacted by a freight revenue increase of 36% and higher volumes of 5.7%.
The carrier is one of the leaders in deploying alternative fuels. It is involved in several projects investigating the use of green ammonia and is also looking at methanol.
MSC is at number two with a fleet of 3.94M TEU, taking up 16.1% of the global fleet capacity. It has a large orderbook of 34 vessels at a total of 635,888 TEU, up from 12 ships at a total of 202,500 TEU in Q2 last year. MSC’s new fleet of ultra-large container ships are ready to switch to lower-carbon fuels once they are available at scale. It has installed a propulsion system on MSC Gülsün and its 10 sister ultra-large container ships (ULCSs) that can be switched to low-sulphur fuel or adapted for LNG.
MSC Gülsün, one of the world’s biggest container ships with a capacity of 23,756 TEU, carries DNV’s gas ready (D, MEc) notation, signifying it complies with the relevant rules in its overall design for future LNG fuel operations, and that the main engine can be converted or operate on gas fuel. MSC has also expressed interest in hydrogen. This year it has joined global industrial hydrogen fuel advocacy body the Hydrogen Council as a steering member.
3 CMA CGM
Having been pushed down by COSCO Group to number four from three last year, CMA CGM has bounced back, overtaking the former to be in third place again. Its fleet capacity has jumped from 2.6M TEU in Q2 last year to 3.05M TEU this year, boosted by the deliveries of its nine dual-fuel 22,000-TEU mega newbuilds – the first ultra-large container ships to be fuelled by LNG. Its orderbook consists of 44 ships and a total 555,577 TEU of capacity. This has been boosted by the announcement at the end of April that it has signed a shipbuilding order with CSSC Group for 22 more vessels. It includes six LNG-powered container ships with a capacity of 13,000 TEU, six LNG-powered container ships with a capacity of 15,000 TEU and 10 very low sulphur fuel oil-powered container ships with a capacity of 5,500 TEU. A forerunner in LNG, the group is also leading the way with other alternative fuels. In April this year it announced it is supporting the production of 12,000 tonnes of biomethane, equivalent to a year’s fuel consumption of two 1,400-TEU ships.
Having overtaken CMA CGM last year to jump to number three, COSCO has slipped back to number 4. It is just behind CMA CGM with a fleet of 3.006M TEU. It has 12 vessels of 276,000 TEU total capacity on its orderbook. Its acquisition of OOCL in 2018 has been fruitful for COSCO. OOCL signed newbuilding contracts with shipyards Nantong COSCO KHI Ship Engineering Co and Dalian COSCO KHI Ship Engineering Co for five new container vessels, with a nominal capacity of 23,000 TEU. Delivery of these vessels is expected to start in 2023. According to VesselsValue, COSCO Shipping Corp was the top buyer of large container vessels over the last five years in the sale and purchase market, acquiring 14 vessels for US$1.78Bn since 2015.
Hapag-Lloyd is in fifth place with a fleet capacity of 1.79M TEU. It has six ships of a total capacity of 141,600 TEU on its orderbook. Hapag-Lloyd guided delegates at its annual press conference webcast through its audited business results for the 2020 financial year. In the reporting year, Hapag-Lloyd’s earnings before interest, taxes, depreciation and amortisation (EBITDA) increased to more than US$3Bn. The Group’s net result improved to around US$1.1Bn.
The main drivers were cost savings of more than US$500M, slightly improved freight rates and lower bunker prices.
Hapag-Lloyd chief executive Rolf Habben Jansen said at the webcast, “2020 saw a lot of fluctuations. We had a good start and then the pandemic hit us in Q1/Q2 [last year] with a massive decline in volumes. Things started recovering in Q3 and Q4… as everyone tried to catch up with demand.”
“Because of that, our performance in the second half of last year was much better than originally anticipated.”
Strategically, Hapag-Lloyd remains on track, with actions including its customer dashboard. It has invested in new ships that will deploy dual fuel which, Mr Habben Jansen says, “will help bring our sustainability target closer.”
Hapag-Lloyd has announced its acquisition of NileDutch after signing a sale and purchase agreement. Mr Habben Jansen said, “It is a good addition to Hapag-Lloyd as they are very complementary to us and they will strengthen our position.” NileDutch moves 200,000 TEU every year.
Singling out the dual-fuel large ships the company is planning to build, Mr Habben Jansen said, “We are under-represented in that large segment... we are looking forward to getting ships from 2023.”
6 Ocean Network Express
Ocean Network Express (ONE) is still at number six in the Alphaliner top 100 largest ocean carriers, with a fleet capacity of 1.6M TEU. It has 15 ships on its orderbook. ONE is involved with boosting decarbonisation efforts in the industry and has completed a second biofuel trial on board Panamax box ship MOL Experience. MOL Experience was refuelled with marine biofuel supplied by GoodFuels at the Port of Rotterdam, the Netherlands on 7 March 2021. The specifications of the second trial were different from the first trial, with the mixing ratio three times higher in biofuel content. The vessel consumed the biofuel 24 days into the 36-day trial period, which ended on 12 April 2021.
ONE said the trial’s success shows the viability of biofuels, while helping the liner to meet its carbon reduction targets for 2030 and 2050. The company is aiming to slash its CO2 emissions by 25% from its 2018 baseline by 2030, and by 50% by 2050. ONE completed the first trial aboard MOL Experience on 7 February.
Evergreen is at number seven with a fleet capacity of 1.34M TEU – but the size of its orderbook takes top spot in the list of largest container carriers, with 688,821 TEU (72 ships) due to be delivered. At the start of this year, Evergreen Marine Corp placed a huge order for 20 15,000-TEU vessels split between South Korea’s Samsung Heavy Industries, China’s Hudong-Zhonghua and Japan’s Shoei Kisen shipyards. In Q4 2019 it placed an order for 11 23,000-TEU container ships from South Korean and Chinese yards. Hudong-Zhonghua and Jiangnan Shipyard are constructing two vessels each. The remaining seven vessels were awarded to Samsung. These orders come on the back of the G-series of ULCSs for the Taiwanese owner. Its 11 20,150-TEU megaships started delivery in 2018.
8 Hyundai Merchant Marine
Hyundai Merchant Marine (HMM) has jumped up to eight from seven – overtaking Yang Ming. Its fleet capacity has swelled from 427,058 TEU in Q2 last year to 768,614 TEU. This is due to an influx of new ships. It orderbook was 396,000 TEU (20 vessels) this time last year, which has now gone down to 141,600 TEU and six vessels as tonnage has been delivered. Last April HMM delivered 24,000-TEU HMM Algeciras. HMM Algeciras was the first of 12 24,000-TEU vessels scheduled to be sequentially delivered until September 2020.
In September 2018, HMM signed a contract for 20 eco-friendly mega container vessels with three shipyards – DSME, Hyundai Heavy Industries and Samsung Heavy Industries – in an “effort to take proactive actions towards market change as well as to form a sustainable profit-generating structure”, the carrier said in a statement.
9 Yang Ming
Yang Ming has slipped down from eight to nine in Alphaliner’s top carriers. It has a fleet capacity of 628,463 TEU, up from 599,538 TEU in Q2 2020. It has an orderbook of 12 vessels, with a total capacity of 125,598 TEU. These eco-type newbuildings with modern designs will gradually replace some of Yang Ming’s high-cost, older ships. Yang Ming’s latest newbuild YM Constancy was delivered in March this year. YM Constancy is the eighth in a series of 10 2,800-TEU full container vessels built at CSBC shipyard. The newbuilding adopts the Sea Sword Bow design to significantly save energy and optimise hydrodynamic performance. The application of its electronic-controlled fuel injection engine with low-load tuning exhaust gas bypass fuel control system will greatly enhance the new ship’s energy efficiency. Since 2020, Yang Ming has taken delivery seven 2,800-TEU owned vessels and four 11,000 TEU chartered-in vessels. The remaining two 2,800-TEU owned vessels and 10 11,000 TEU chartered-in newbuildings will be delivered soon.
After dropping from 11th place last year to number 12, Zim has bounced back up to number 10. Its fleet has increased from 270,876 TEU to 404,261 TEU. In Q2 last year it had nothing on its orderbook – it now has 10 vessels, with a total of 150,000 TEU capacity. Samsung Heavy Industries has confirmed an order for 10 MAN Energy Solutions 8G95ME-GI10.5 engines to power the 15,000-TEU container ships it is constructing for Seaspan Corporation. The LNG dual-fuel vessels are scheduled for delivery in H1 2023 and will immediately begin 12-year charters for ZIM Lines, serving the US east coast trade.
11 Wan Hai Lines
Wan Hai Lines is still at number 11 after climbing from 12th place last year. It has a fleet that totals 371,037 TEU, up on 270,196 TEU in Q2 last year. It has 128,646 TEU on its orderbook, spread across 29 vessels. This is up on its orderbook of 20 vessels (48,744 TEU) at the same time last year. In March this year, Wan Hai Lines confirmed an order of five 13,200 TEU container vessels with Hyundai Heavy Industries. These new vessel types will be delivered from Q2 2023.
12 Pacific International Lines (PIL)
PIL has dropped down from number 11 to 12 this year. The carrier has a fleet capacity of 254,853 TEU, a reduction compared with 341,748 TEU in Q2 last year. It completed a newbuilding programme that comprised 16 11,800-TEU box ships in 2018, and currently has no newbuilds on its orderbook. In March last year, Neptune Pacific Line announced it acquired Pacific Direct Line (PDL) from PIL. The acquisition of PDL will strengthen Neptune’s Melanesian and Polynesian network, provide a link to Micronesia and the French territories, and enhance connectivity to global markets via strategic hubs in New Zealand and Fiji.
13 Zhonggu Logistics Group
Zhongghu Logistics Group has jumped up from 14 to 13 this year, overtaking KMTC. It is on an upwards trajectory – in 2020 it jumped from 16 the year before to 14. 2019 marked its entry into the top 20; it was at number 33 in April 2018.
Its fleet has grown steadily, with a current total capacity of 161,293 TEU. The intra-Asia carrier has also boosted its newbuild orderbook. Last year it had 4,964 TEU, totalling three newbuilds. This year it has soared to 16 vessels and a capacity of 73,600 TEU.
14 Korea Marine Transport Co (KMTC)
KMTC has dropped from number 13 to 14, having been overtaken by Zhongghu Logistics Group. It has a fleet capacity of 156,381 TEU and nothing on its orderbook, after five vessels of a total 12,500 TEU on its orderbook last year were delivered. It is an intra-Asia regional company, deploying regular container liner services to China, southeast Asia, southwest Asia, the Russian Federation and the Middle East. This carrier joined the top 20 in 2018 due to the consolidation that has taken place within container shipping lines.
Iran’s national shipping line IRISL Group is at number 15 in the rankings of the top carriers. It arrived in the top 20 in 2018 from a previous position of 24. The consolidation of several carriers, such as NYK Line, MOL and K Line into Ocean Network Express, allowed IRISL to move into the top 20. The company has a current fleet capacity of 149,042 TEU and 32 vessels. It does not have anything on its orderbook.
SITC is at number 16 and has a fleet capacity of 140,963 TEU, up from 110,576 TEU last year. Its orderbook has swelled considerably from 5,564 TEU to 60,428 TEU and 27 vessels. The Chinese carrier has bolstered its intermodal links. In early March last, the Qinghai International Intermodal train with railway containers carried by SITC travelled from Chongqing railway central station departing from Qinghai Province on 5 March with the containers then sailing to Thailand by SITC.
17 X-Press Feeders Group
X-Press Feeders Group has jumped from number 18 to 17, after it slipped from its position of 17 in 2019 to number 18 last year. It has a fleet capacity of 138,019 TEU and 85 ships. Its orderbook has received a huge boost – going from 5,564 TEU, split between two ships in Q2 last year to 56,000 TEU and eight ships.
18 Antong Holdings
Quanzhou Ansheng Shipping, a subsidiary of Chinese transportation company Antong Holdings, has fallen from 16 last to 18 this year. Last year was also a drop – from number 15 in 2019. However, before 2018, it was at number 29. Container line mergers and acquisitions plus an aggressive newbuilding programme have propelled it up the ranks. Its fleet of 138,019 TEU has been boosted by recent newbuild deliveries. It has 4,888 TEU on its orderbook.
19 Sinokor Merchant Marine
Sinokor has jumped one spot from 20 to number 19. Last year marked its arrival into the top 20 for the first time. It has a fleet of 78 ships with a total capacity of 112,929 TEU, up from 72 ships in Q2 last year. It has 12 ships on its orderbook, totalling 18,240 TEU.
20 TS Lines
TS Lines is back in the top 20, after falling out of it last year, and being number 19 in 2019. It has bagged Unifeeder’s spot, pushing the European shortsea and logistics operator out of the top 20 and down to 21. The Hong Kong-based carrier ordered two Bangkokmax container ships of 1,900 TEU at the CSSC-controlled Guangzhou Huangpu Shipyard, China, last year, with options for a further two ships. The first two ships are planned for delivery in Q3 and Q4 2022.
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