Export/Import Updates!
December 2, 2021

Top Seven Shipping Lines: Past to Present

Shipping lines ferrying millions of tons of goods across the high seas play a key role in the normal functioning of trade and commerce in this ever-globalizing world. Let’s take a short tour of top seven shipping lines in the world.

Though transportation of goods via ships has existed for centuries, it was American truck driver and entrepreneur Malcolm P. McLean’s innovation of the shipping container that revolutionized the industry, giving rise to several modern day shipping lines. McLean demonstrated the power and simplicity of moving goods through containers when he shipped, in April 1955, 58 containers on a converted oil tanker from Port Newark, New Jersey to Houston.

Long before McLean’s magic, a few shipping companies did exist, but they were not using the containerization method. Some of those companies were Hapag (Hamburg-Amerikanische Packetfahrt-Actien-Gesellschaft), North German Lloyd, Dampskibsselskabet Svendborg, and Dampskibsselskabet af 1912.

A good number of shipping companies were founded in the later decades, after McLean’s innovations and standardization, such as MSC (1970),CMA CGM (1978), and OOCL (1969) among others.

Top 7 Shipping Lines:

·     Maersk

·     Mediterranean Shipping Company (MSC)

·     CMA CGM

·     Cosco Shipping

·     Hapag – Lloyd

·     Evergreen

·     OOCL


Headquarters: Copenhagen, Denmark


Danish shipping giant Maersk started with humble beginnings as Dampskibsselskabet Svendborg, a steamship company in 1904. Buying a secondhand steamer on 6th October 1904, A. P. Moller and his father Peter Maersk Moller laid the foundation in the town of Svendborg. Peter Maersk Moller was a shipping pioneer who transitioned wind-powered older sail schooners and barques to steamships. Eight years later, Moller founded another steamer company called Dampskibsselskabet af 1912 for operational independence and expansion plans. Bolstered by favorable conditions during the First World War, the new company prospered. Both Dampskibsselskabet Svendborg and Dampskibsselskabet af 1912 were managed parallelly until they were merged in2003 under the new name A. P. Moller – Maersk.

In 1967, the company started supply service to provide material required for drilling operations and established freight forwarder mercantile with subsidiaries in Taiwan, Hong Kong, and Singapore. It entered container manufacturing in 1991 and its first dry container plant was set up at Tinglev, which also started producing refrigerated containers from 1995.

In its long journey of 117 years, Maersk acquired EACBen Container Line in 1993, P & O Nedlloyd in2005, Sea-land in 1999, and Hamburg Sud in 2017, the seventh largest shipping line in the world back then.

Shipping Routes:

Offering shipping services from over 300 ports, including 15 Indian ports and 45 inland acceptance depots, Maersk covers the whole world, including point to point shipping services. In addition to maintaining several inter-range services in the world’s freight markets - Western Europe comprising Atlantic and Mediterranean façades, North America, Atlantic and Pacific facades, and Pacific Asia, mainly Chinese coastal ports are three renowned inter-range routes serviced by Maersk.

Maersk Today:

Maersk emerged as the largest ocean container shipping line, ferrying 1 million+ containers every month by 2019. With a massive fleet of 740+ ships, Maersk ships call 343 ports and terminals in 121 countries, moving 12 million containers to every corner of the world.

Maersk’s estimated market share is 16%.

Mediterranean Shipping Company (MSC)

Headquarters: Geneva, Switzerland


Founded in 1970 and privately owned by the Aponte family, MSC is a global shipping and logistics giant, operating from 155 countries. Gianluigi Aponte, who founded MSC was a captain by training and entered the business with his wife Rafaela. He first acquired a single vessel, German ship called Patricia, funded by a loan and named his second ship after his wife. In a space of just 50 years, MSC went from a one vessel shipping line to 600-vesselcompany. Over the years, the former sea captain from southern Italy’s Sorrento went on to build one of the largest shipping conglomerates.

Shipping Routes:

With calls at 500 ports and 230 shipping routes, MSC connects 155 countries all over the world, offering tailored services for specific industries such as agriculture, automotive, chemicals, petrochemical, food and beverages, mining, materials, pulp, paper, forestry, plastics, rubber products, and retail among others.

Under MSC’s European & Short Sea Network service, it offers shipping services combined with inland operations, including door-to-door solutions. Besides shipping services on the sea, MSC also offers road, rail, and barge transportation, propelled by teams of local experts across frozen food, pharmaceuticals, chemicals, cars and other industries.

MSC Today:

MSC’s runs a fleet of 600 vessels to deliver merchandise across the globe, deploying its network of road, rail, and sea transport resources. It offers e-business solutions for cargo booking and is developing smart containers: MSC ships ferry 23 million TEUs annually, deploying modern green technologies.

It also diversified into overland transportation, logistics and has invested heavily in strategically located container terminals across the globe, creating a strong position in on time cargo delivery. The home terminals boost MSC to prioritize vessels whenever needed, offering greater control of the supply chain. MSC owns container terminals across six habitable continents. MSC also invested in several dry ports to accelerate cargo delivery in cities while its global network of container depots offers a range of storage, maintenance, packing and unpacking services.

MSC estimated market share is 14.6%.


A CMA CGM container ship at the Panama Canal (Pic from pexels.com)

Headquarters: Marseilles, France


In 1978, Jacques Saade started Compagnie Maritime d’Affretement (CMA)with four staff members, one ship and one shipping route connecting Beirut, Latakia, Livorno and Marseilles. Overtime, this initial Mediterranean service evolved to add North American continent along with the addition of new ships Ville d’Orient and Ville du Levant, with an aim to facilitate trade between the east and west of Mediterranean. By 1983, CMA continued to expand its shipping lines and crossed the Suez Canal for the first time. CMA opened its first Chinese office in Shanghai in 1992.

As the company continued to expand, the next big milestone was acquisition of Compagnie Generale Maritime (CGM), adding 19 operational vessels, fully trained crews and shipping lines to the Caribbean and the Americas. The merger got completed in 1999 to form the shipping behemoth CMA CGM.

Later, it acquired transpacific market leader ANL in 1998, Delmas in2005, short sea shipping and door-to-door logistics solutions specialist OPDRin 2014, APL in 2016, and CEVA logistics in 2019. In 2021, the shipping giant created CMA CGM Air Cargo division with four cargo aircraft of 60 tons capacity each. With contract logistics and warehousing expertise, CMA CGM offers an intermodal approach.

Shipping Routes:

CMA – CGM’s shipping routes cover the entire world, encompassing most countries in Africa, Asia, Caribbean and Central America, Europe, Mediterranean, Middle East, North America, Oceania, and South America.

CMA CGM Today:

It is present in 160 countries via 755 offices, 750 warehouses and a fleet of 566 vessels, serving 420 ports with 285 shipping lines and transporting21 million+ containers. With $31.5 billion revenues, it operates warehouses whose area amounts to 9 million square meters and handles 2.8 million tons of ground freight, 0.3 million tons of airfreight, 1.1 million TEUs (3PL & NVO ocean volumes) and 4.2 lakh cubic meters of LCL.

It is deploying technologies such as Internet of Things (IoT), Artificial Intelligence (AI) and block chain to innovate the shipping space. It employs1.1 lakh people and aims to achieve carbon neutrality by 2050, using eco-friendly bio-methane and biofuels. To emerge as an environment friendly operator, it has managed to slash CO2 emissions per TEU by 50% and started using liquefied natural gas (LNG) in 2017 to power nine new large 23,000 TEU container ships. In 2019, it announced that it wouldn’t sail through the Northern Sea Route as it could result in ecological damage.

CMA CGM’s estimated market share is 11.1%.

Cosco Shipping

Headquarters: Shangai, China


Cosco Shipping Lines, a Chinese shipping giant, is a fully owned subsidiary of Cosco Shipping Holdings. Affiliated to the Cosco Shipping Group, the company emerged on merging the container businesses of Cosco and China Shipping and is up for business since March 16, 2016. The merger enabled Cosco Shipping Lines to expand its business scale and consolidate position in the industry. The Chinese company engages in domestic and international maritime container transport services and allied business activities.

Shipping Routes:

Cosco Shipping Lines routes include Trans-Pacific, Europe, Europe Feeder and Transatlantic, Asian Pacific, Latin America/Africa, Latin America Regional Service, Southeast and South Asia, and Domestic and Coastal Service.

Cosco Shipping Today:

Cosco Shipping Lines operates 411 container vessels with a total capacity of 2.23 million TEUs through 399 domestic and international shipping routes, encompassing 266 international trade services which also include international feeder services, 53 domestic services, 80 Yangtze River and Pearl River shipping services. Covering 103 countries, it has anchors in 336 ports worldwide. It runs offices in most countries in Asia, Oceania, Africa, Europe, and the Americas. Nearly 400 marketing offices cater to the entire global shipping market.

Cosco is also a member of the Ocean Alliance, which offers a comprehensive network with the strengths of wide coverage, frequency and efficiency, allowing it to implement a low cost strategy and enhance its service network.

Cosco’s estimated market share is 8%.

Hapag – Lloyd

Headquarters: Hamburg, Germany


Hapag – Lloyd is a German company which was formed by merging two 19thcentury companies: Hamburg-Amerikanische Packetfahrt-Actien-Gesellschaft(Hapag) and North German Lloyd.

Hapag was founded on 27 May 1847 in the conference room of Hamburg Stock Exchange by a group of ship owners and merchants, appointing Adolph Godeffroyas the first director. North German Lloyd was founded on 20 February 1857. Boththese companies merged in 1970 to transform as Hapag – Lloyd.

Shipping Routes:

Hapag – Lloyd’s 121 services span the entire globe, encompassing Latin America, Asia/Oceania to North America, Europe to North America, Intra – Asia, Africa – Mediterranean, Europe to Asia and Middle East.

Hapag – Lloyd Today:

Equipped with 250 modern ships, Hapag – Lloyd ferries 11.8 million TEU annually, and employs 13,400 people in 394 offices across 130 countries.

Boasting one of the world’s largest and most advanced reefer container fleets, Hapag – Lloyd has a total capacity of 1.8 million TEU, including a container stock of approximately 2.8 million TEU. Nearly 121 liner services of Hapag– Lloyd offer reliable connectivity to 600 ports globally.

Hapag – Lloyd’s estimated market share is 5.2%.


Headquarters: Taipei, Taiwan


Evergreen Group constitutes six companies: Evergreen Marine Corporation (Taiwan) Ltd, Italia Marittima S.p.A., Evergreen Marine (UK) Ltd., Evergreen Marine (Hong Kong) Ltd. and Evergreen Marine (Singapore) Pte and Evergreen Marine (Asia) which joined in 2021.

Evergreen Marine Corporation (EMC) was established by Dr. Yung Fa Chang on September 1, 1968. The company launched containership project in the thick of 1975 energy crisis and started full container service routes connecting the far east with the US west coast. In 1984, EMC launched east – west full container service across the world and its ships sailed through Asia, Americas and Europe.

Shipping Routes:

Evergreen’s trade routes are Far East – North America, Far East – North Europe and Mediterranean, Europe – US East Coast, Far East – Latin America, Far East – Africa, Intra – Asia, Asia – Middle East and Australia and Asia India Sub-continent, and Intra Europe and Mediterranean. Evergreen’s east – west routes link Southeast Asia, Hong Kong, Taiwan, Mainland China, Korea and Japan with the east and west coasts of USA. It also provides services from Japan, Korea, Mainland China, Taiwan, Hong Kong and Southeast Asia to Europe and the Mediterranean.

Evergreen operates intensive sailing routes throughout Asia, connecting India, Middle East, Red Sea as well as sailing through the north – south route linking Asia with Australia. It provides full container services connecting the east coast of USA with the east coast of South America, plus Panama with the west coast of South America.

In addition to these main routes, Evergreen runs regular feeder services in the Caribbean and the Indian subcontinent, cutting short delivery timelines. Evergreen serves 315 locations around the world, covering 114 countries.

Evergreen Today:

Evergreen Line is the common trading name for Evergreen Group, which was adopted in May 2007. These six companies offer a capacity of 1.2 million TEU. Evergreen caters to global shipping demands of raw and fresh goods, deploying micro-controlled reefer containers to guarantee safe delivery of perishables. Over the last decade, perishables delivery service even ventured deep inland throughout Asia, the Americas, Europe, Mediterranean, Africa, and Australia.

In recent years, Evergreen forged partnerships with shipping counterparts through slot charters, slot exchanges, and joint services, which help in offering extensive service network for cargo owners. Evergreen invested in container terminals, establishing fifth container center at Kaohsiung in Taiwan and terminals in Colon, Panama, and Taranto in Italy.

The shipping line also developed comprehensive digital systems, launched e – commerce services and synced all information systems of all services sites with the suppliers. In 2003, LOG – NET, which recognizes e – commerce services awarded Evergreen with its first annual e – commerce excellence award and Lloyd’s List, a 300-year-old shipping news player, awarded Maritime Excellence Award for Commitment to Training and Education.

Evergreen’s estimated market share is 5%.


Headquarters: Hong Kong


Orient Overseas Container Line is the trade name for transportation services provided by Orient Overseas Container Line Limited(OOCLL) while OOCL is for OOCL (Europe). Both OOCLL and OOCL (Europe) are wholly owned subsidiaries of Orient Overseas (International) Limited, a public company listed on the Hong Kong Stock Exchange.

OOCL was founded by C. Y. Tung, who aspired to create the first international Chinese merchant fleet and accomplished that vision by sailing an all-Chinese crew to the east coast of the USA and Europe. Tung’s company was renamed as the Orient Overseas Container Line (OOCL) in 1969.

Shipping Routes:

OOCL has a comprehensive coverage of east – west trade corridors and regular services to Asia, the Americas, Europe, Africa, the Mediterranean, Indian sub-continent, Middle East and Red Sea. It also carries out regular loops to Australia and New Zealand. With excellent coverage of Asian ports, it is emerging as a leading service provider in China. Its key shipping routes include Trans – Pacific, Latin America, Trans – Atlantic, Asia – Europe, Europe– West Africa, Australia/New Zealand, Intra-Asia, Asia – Africa and Intra –Europe.

OOCL Today:

With 125 offices in 100+ cities all over the world, it is a leading global integrated international container transportation and logistics company. OOCL is an industry leader in IT and e – commerce to manage the entire cargo process.

OOCL’s estimated market share is 3.3%.

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Editorial Team
Editorial Team
Customer success manager
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Sara Smith
Customer success manager

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