Ranked: The 5 Biggest Container Lines in the World

Ranked: The 5 Biggest Container Lines in the World

The top 5 global container liners have seen some change in recent years, here is the definitive list for 2023

Container shipping can be a cruel business with those not making the grade prone to bankruptcy as the big boys inculcate their capacities, this has led to the key players getting increasingly large in terms of market share, and in this piece, we offer an insight into the top 5 for 2023.

To clarify, before we begin with the top 5 container lines, we should be clear that we are measuring the liners on capacity and market share.

This is because this measure is the simplest and most clear mode of ranking the liners, as income and assets provide a more unclear picture.

So, here are the leading 5 liners for 2023:

1. Mediterranean Shipping Line (MSC)

The MSC Irina is the joint-largest ship in the world
The MSC Irina is the joint-largest ship in the world

MSC has burst into first place after world-famous Maersk Line held the position since the mid-90s.

With a huge total capacity of 4,832,709 TEU, which comprises 740 vessels and an 18.2% share of the market, the Swiss-based company is securing massive gains as the world leader.

In fact, in 2022, MSC made record earnings before interest and taxes (EBIT) of US$220bn last year, according to Sea-Intelligence estimates.

Read: MSC Wins Most Inspiring Liner Award

Such a figure highlights the power of MSC, which is buttressed by MSC now owning two of the world's largest containerships, the MSC Irina (pictured above) and the MSC Loreto, both boasting a capacity of 24,346 TEU.

MSC is also part of a vessel sharing agreement with Maersk Line known as 2M, and while this is due to elapse in 2025, it does mean that collectively the two own 34.1% of global market share.

2. Maersk Line

Kees Torn. Maersk.

Previous chart-topper Maersk Line comes in at second with a total capacity share of 15.3%, which amounts to just over 4.1 million TEU.

While still a huge share, it is notable how far the Danish giant has fallen behind MSC.

Offering regular services to 374 ports in 116 countries, the liner employs 83,625 people, while operating over 708 vessels.

Maersk is also aiming to launch the world's first carbon-neutral vessel, due to be launched at some point in late 2023, seven years ahead of its original schedule.


French liner CMA CGM retains its spot in third having held its own for decades.

Founded in 1978 by Jacques Saadé, it has a presence in 160 countries through 400 offices, 750 warehouses, 155,000 employees and a wide fleet of 593 vessels.

CMA CGM also serves 420 of the world’s 521 commercial ports and operates 257 shipping liners.

With regard to Q1 of 2023, Rodolphe Saadé, Chairman and Chief Executive Officer of the CMA CGM Group, said: "..our first-quarter results are extremely solid.

"They are the fruit of our investments - more than US$30 billion committed over the past two years - which enable us to constantly broaden and strengthen our range of transport and logistics solutions for our customers.”

4. COSCO Group

Coming in at fourth spot is the Chinese liner COSCO, which was formed in January 2016 by a merger of COSCO and China Shipping Group as one conglomerate.

With a container fleet with a capacity of just under 3 million TEU, and a market share of just over 10%, COSCO is looking to update its fleet via the purchase of a methanol fuel supply system for four of its 16,000 TEU containerships.

The double filter design is reportedly more reliable, safer and more sustainable.

5. Hapag-Lloyd

Coming in at number 5 is the German liner Hapag-Lloyd, with a market share of 6.8%, which totals over 1.8 million TEU, the liner retains its spot in the top 5 for another year running.

The liner has recently announced that it is seeking to advance its decarbonisation goals by rolling out a product based on biofuel.

Given the market is uncertain on green fuels, its a bold move that states its intentions for the future.

Read more: Shanghai to Build Liner Reliability Index

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