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The ocean container 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 industry.

However, certain aspects of the shipping industry are in constant motion. Technology, automation, environmental demand, and data analytics remain the biggest influences over industry shifts and long-term change. In the wake of the pandemic, trends are emerging that will shape the future of 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 shipping companies dominate the industry. This means a small number of liners are responsible for transporting the vast majority of freight worldwide.

Almost 85% of the market is controlled by the 10 largest container shipping companies. The four major players, Maersk, MSC, COSCO, and CMA CGM, account for approximately 58% 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 recent periods.

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 cargo transportation for over 20 years. The top 6 shipping companies 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 liner to pay significantly more than current market valuations, this long-term strategy has proved fruitful 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 rates.

According to Marine Insight, customer advisory reports suggest that shippers are more likely to change to a different international shipping company if they are 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 provides 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.


Alternative Fuel Options

A container ship fleet puts out a significant amount of greenhouse gas emissions. A 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 better route planning. These will contribute to more efficient carriers in the future.

Additionally, alternative fuels are being considered to lower pollution levels. Liquefied natural gas (LNG) is an alternative fuel option to help shippers reduce their emissions and meet environmental targets. All 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 for alternative fuel 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 of20-foot equivalent units (TEUs).

Here are the biggest bulk transportation services in the world at present:

A.P. Moler-Maersk Group

A.P. Molder-Maersk Group is the biggest 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. Its 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.

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 for optimizing sales deals.

Evergreen Marine Corporation

The Evergreen Marine Corporation is a Taiwanese ocean freight 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 (855) 500-1808 for more information or to request a free quote.

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