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The ocean container shipping industry faced significant challenges over the past few years due to supply chain disruptions and shipping container shortages. Shipping services continue to adapt to a highly volatile market as global economies recover from the pandemic. Despite hopes of a more stable marketplace soon, political unrest and unrelenting demand mean compounding uncertainty continues to cloud the future of the shipping industry.

Technology, automation, environmental demand, and data analytics continue to influence industry shifts and long-term change. In the wake of the pandemic, trends are emerging that will shape the future of sea container shipping.

Continued Dominance From Major Container Shipping Companies

Over the past two decades, market conditions for shipping lines have become increasingly unbalanced. The biggest ocean shipping companies dominate the shipping industry. This means a small number of liners are responsible for transporting most freight worldwide.

Almost 84.2% of the market is controlled by the ten largest sea container shipping companies. The four major players, Maersk, MSC, COSCO, and CMA CGM, account for approximately 57.5% of global ocean freight traffic.

This is mainly due to alliances between industry leaders. Studies have concluded that the ocean shipping industry is in monopolistic competition, particularly throughout periods of the 2000s.

The largest companies look set to shape the future of the industry. They own the biggest ships and have the financial means to overcome the industry’s severe supply chain disruptions—congestion in commercial ports and container shortages further imbalanced the disproportionate market.

Mergers and Acquisitions

Mergers and acquisitions have been a consistent theme in the cargo shipping industry for over 20 years. The top six companies in the cargo shipping market have been involved in major takeovers since the early 2000s. This strategy is likely to continue in the coming years.

The COVID-19 pandemic caused enormous supply chain disruptions to transportation services, including congestion in the busiest ports worldwide. Rates for freight shipping increased dramatically as shippers scrambled to meet demand. While this posed challenges for bulk shipping operations, the biggest carriers overcame them and made record profits in 2020 and 2021.

Strategic mergers and takeovers helped dominant carriers gain an even stronger foothold in the market, increasing profit margins. While this might force the biggest shipping liners to pay more than current market valuations, this has been a successful long-term strategy in the past.

Increased Customer Focus

Cargo freight shipping companies are not known for award-winning customer service. Disruptions along international routes, port delays, and freight rates have decreased customer satisfaction.

According to Marine Insight, customer advisory reports suggest that shippers are more likely to change to a different international shipping company if dissatisfied. Clients are prioritizing short-term gains over long-term carrier relationships.

This trend means ocean carrier companies are working to improve customer service. This involves creating clearer communication lines, providing tracking services, and offering accurate information regarding shipment arrival times at container terminals.

Integrated Logistics Service Providers (ILSP)

ILSPs provide virtually all aspects of shipping management, from pre-departure drayage to home delivery. By diversifying their service portfolio, shipping companies can offer more value to the end customer.

In addition to providing the largest container ships, ILSPs offer a wide range of freight transportation services, including freight forwarding, trucking, deliveries to port facilities, and storage. This upstream and downstream integration makes bulk shipping operators more comprehensive and attractive to customers.

Ocean Shipping Industry Forward

Alternative Fuel Options

Container ship fleets produce significant amounts of greenhouse gas emissions. Each bulk carrier emits around 440 million metric tons of CO₂ per year, while a common carrier or container ship has an annual throughput of approximately 140 million metric tons of CO₂.

Shipping companies are coming under increased pressure to reduce their environmental impact. They are reacting by developing technologies to create more efficient propellers, streamline hulls, and optimize route planning. These will contribute to more efficient carriers in the future.

Alternative fuels are also being considered to lower pollution levels. Liquefied natural gas (LNG) is an alternative fuel option to help shippers reduce emissions and meet environmental targets.

All of Hapag Lloyd’s recent fleet additions use LNG fuel. Although oil-based fuels are likely to continue over the next few years, LNG is the frontrunner among alternative fuels in the long term.

Biggest Shipping Companies

The future of the ocean shipping industry is largely dependent on the actions of the biggest carriers. Alphaliner accumulates data on shipping lines and ranks them according to their combined capacity of 20-foot equivalent units (TEUs).
Currently, the biggest bulk transportation services in the world include:

A.P. Moller-Maersk Group

A.P. Moller-Maersk Group is the largest carrier of ocean freight in the world. The Danish company works in 130 different countries and has one of the biggest fleets of bulk vessels.

As the largest shipping company in the ocean shipping industry, this group has several subsidiary companies, including Maersk Line, Maersk Oil, and Maersk Supply Services. It offers transport and logistics services as well as international shipping.

Mediterranean Shipping Company (MSC)

Mediterranean Shipping Company is a Swiss shipping and logistics provider. The fleet contains over 500 cargo vessels that operate on 200 trade routes. MSC operates a comprehensive intermodal transport service, including overland door-to-door deliveries and partial or full container load shipping.

China Ocean Shipping Company (COSCO)

The COSCO Group is the largest shipping company in China. It is a government-owned operation with multiple subsidiary shipping lines, including Shanghai Pan Asia Shipping. It deals mainly in dry bulk materials, such as iron, ore, and grain.


CMA CGM Group is based in France. The name is derived from the French acronym “Maritime Freighting Company, General Maritime Company.” It offers comprehensive shipping and logistics services and is active in over 80% of the world’s commercial ports.

Ocean Network Express (ONE)

Ocean Network Express was formed as a joint venture between Nippon Yusen Kaisha, Mitsui O.S.K. Lines, and K-Line in 2018. Although it is a relatively new company, it has a sizable 240-vessel fleet of 20,000 TEU ships. It also has corporate offices in 90 countries to optimize sales deals.

Evergreen Marine Corporation

The Evergreen Marine Corporation is a Taiwanese ocean freight shipping company. Although it handles shipments globally, the business primarily deals along trade routes in Far East Asia, Central America, and Europe. The Evergreen line fleet consists of over 200 ships.

Other Major Ocean Carrier Companies

  • Yang Ming Marine Transport Corporation (Taiwan)
  • Hyundai Merchant Marine (South Korea)
  • Hanjin Shipping (South Korea)
  • American Shipping Company (USA and Norway)
  • Ansheng Shipping (China)
  • Matson Inc. (USA)

Work with a World Class Shipping Company to Ensure Future Success

Whether your business operates in Asia, Europe, or North America, working with a first-rate shipping company can save you time and money on imports and exports.
Asiana USA is a world-class international freight forwarder that can help you maintain shipping success year-round. Call us today at (323) 990-6364 for more information or to request a free quote.

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