By Mike Wackett

The number of container lines with an operating capacity of over 200,000 TEUs has reduced to 17 from 20 in the past year, and is set to shrink to 13 in the next 18 months as the industry experiences unprecedented consolidation. CMA CGM’s acquisition of APL and the integration of Chinese carriers CSCL and Cosco, together with the demise of Hanjin, accounted for the contraction in 2016.

The proposed merger of Hapag-Lloyd and UASC, the takeover of Hamburg Sud by Maersk and the joint-venture between K Line, MOL and NYK will cut the “premier division” ranks this year. According to Alphaliner, the overall operated capacity of the current 17 main carriers shrank by 1.3 per cent between January 2016 and January 2017, after taking into account the removal of Hanjin’s tonnage. The consultant calculated that collectively the top 17 container lines control 81.2 per cent of global capacity, down from the 83.7 per cent controlled by the top 20 a year ago.

Notwithstanding Hanjin, which was the seventh largest carrier and operated around 572,000 TEUs of capacity at the time it entered receivership, there were five carriers that reduced their capacity year-on-year. Israeli carrier Zim recorded the largest cut, 14.8 per cent, while MOL and K Line lost 10.6 per cent and 7.7 per cent respectively.

Soon-to-be-acquired Hamburg Sud was also forced to rationalize its fleet, due to weak trading in its core South American trades, and cut back its tonnage by 6.6 per cent. CMA CGM added to its operating capacity by 17.3 per cent, following the acquisition of APL, but saw its aggregated combined capacity fall 9.3 per cent after outsourcing a substantial part of its feedering service.

Maersk, including its Safmarine, Sealand, MCC and Seago brands, with a total cellular capacity of 3.3 million TEUs remains comfortably at the top of the tree, and will further be boosted by Hamburg Sud’s 604,000 TEU fleet – although the Danish carrier could opt to off-hire surplus ships when it takes over the business.

Second-placed MSC last year “took on a massive amount of new ships”, noted Alphaliner. New aggregate capacity of 303,000 TEUs represents a 6 per cent increase in its operated fleet and includes ten additional 19,000 TEU ultra-large container vessels. With a “minor clear-out” of its oldest tonnage to the scrapyard and the off-hiring of some chartered-in tonnage, MSC gained 160,000 TEUs last year, and now operates a fleet totalling 2.8 million TEUs. Interestingly, all of new ships are leased and underpinned by long-term charters – it now has 62 per cent of its fleet on charter, compared with Maersk’s 46 per cent. Maersk grew its owned tonnage after receiving newbuilds and MSC off-hired more short-term chartered ships to make way for the new long-term charters.

In third place in the rankings is CMA CGM, with an operating capacity of 2.1 million TEUs, followed by Cosco in fourth place with 1.6 million TEUs. Evergreen is currently fifth at 993,000 TEUs, but the Taiwanese carrier will be demoted after Hapag-Lloyd and UASC complete their merger, which will give the combined entity 1.5 million TEUs.

Outside the top carriers, the X-Press feeder group, with an operating capacity of 158,000 TEUs, now ranks as the world’s 18th-largest container line.

Reprinted courtesy of The Loadstar (