The largest container shipping companies in the world

Visualization of the world’s largest container shipping companies

Did you know that 80% of the world’s trade in goods is transported by sea? Given the scale of human consumption, this requires an enormous number of shipping containers and ships to transport them.

At industry level, container shipping is dominated by several very large companies. These include Maersk, COSCO Shipping and Evergreen. If you live along the coast, you’ve probably seen ships or containers with these names painted on them.

In general, however, consumers know very little about these companies. This chart aims to change that by ranking the 10 largest container shipping companies in the world.

Ranking of the top 10

Companies are ranked based on two metrics. First is the number of ships they own and second is their total shipping capacity, measured in TEUs (Twenty Foot Equivalent Units). A TEU is based on the volume of a twenty foot shipping container.

The data used in this infographic is from Alcott Global, a logistics consulting company. The fleet sizes are from June 2021, the TEU capacity from January 2022.

rank company country TEU number of ships
1 maersk 🇬🇰 Denmark 4.3 million 718
1 MSC (Mediterranean Shipping Company) 🇨🇭 Switzerland 4.3 million 606
3 CMA CGM 🇫🇷 France 3.2 million 542
4 COSCO shipping 🇨🇳 China 2.9 million 497
5 Hapag Lloyd Germany 1.7 million 259
6 Ocean Network Express 🇯🇵 Japan 1.5 million 218
7 Evergreen Navy 🇹🇼Taiwan 1.5 million 201
8th HHM (Hyundai Merchant Marine) 🇰🇷 South Korea 0.8 million 79
9 Yang Ming 🇹🇼Taiwan 0.7 million 87
10 Wan Hai lines 🇹🇼Taiwan 0.4 million 146

In this record maersk and MSC are in first place in terms of TEU capacity. This is no longer the case as news outlets recently reported that MSC has overtaken the former.

Behind the two industry leaders lies a mix of European and Asian companies. Many of these companies have grown through mergers and acquisitions.

Interesting facts


At the time of writing, Maersk is Denmark’s third largest company by market capitalization. The company was founded in 1904, making it 118 years old.


The Mediterranean Shipping Company (MSC) has grown very rapidly in recent years, catching up (and surpassing) long-time market leader Maersk in terms of TEU capacity.

The Swiss company has increased its fleet through new orders, the acquisition of used vessels and charter agreements.

COSCO shipping

COSCO Shipping is China’s state-owned shipping company. American officials have raised concerns about the company’s growing global influence.

For comparison, Chinese state-owned companies have ownership interests in terminals in five US ports. This includes Terminal 30 in the Port of Seattle, in which two COSCO subsidiaries have a 33.33% interest.

Going forward, any further Chinese interest in US terminals will face an even stricter regulatory environment.
– Kardon (2021)


Evergreen is probably a household name, but not for the right reasons. In 2021, one of the company’s ships, Always givengot stuck in the Suez Canal, shutting down one of the world’s most important shipping routes for nearly a week.

mass building

In order to achieve better economies of scale, container ships are becoming larger and larger. The chart below illustrates this trend from 1970 to 2017.

The average capacity is pulled up by the arrival of mega ships, these are ships with a capacity of over 18,000 TEU. Their enormous size creates problems for ports that are not designed to handle such a high volume of traffic.

It is worth noting that the largest ship today, the Always Ace (owned by Evergreen) has a capacity of 24,000 TEU. Check out this YouTube video for some impressive footage of the ship.

turn green

Bloomberg reports that shipping accounts for 3% of global carbon emissions. If industry were a country, it would be that of the world sixth largest issuer.

Due to the growth of ESG investments, shipping companies have come under pressure to decarbonize their ships. To date, progress has been limited, but there are many solutions in the pipeline.

One possibility is alternative fuels such as liquefied natural gas (LNG), hydrogen or biofuels from plants. These fuels could allow ships to significantly reduce their emissions.

Another option is to go completely without fuel and instead use the centuries-old technology of wind power.

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