Mediterranean Shipping Co is on track to overtake 2M alliance partner Maersk as the world’s largest container line by capacity deployed if it continues with its aggressive acquisition policy.
MSC operates a fleet of 587 boxships comprising 3.9m teu, while Maersk’s 711 ships have an aggregate capacity of 4.1m teu, figures from Alphaliner show. The capacity gap between the two stands at just 234,000 teu.
“Irrespective of past developments and fleet growth, the carriers’ opposing stance on container vessel newbuilding is expected to see MSC overtake its Danish competitor and claim the global top spot some time in 2022,” Alphaliner said.
MSC’s orderbook stands at nearly 660,000 teu, mainly consisting of ultra-large tonnage, compared with Maersk, which has only 42,000 teu of smaller tonnage on order.
“MSC’s pipeline could grow even further, since a number of big newbuildings are believed to be joining the MSC fleet under long-term charters that have yet to be confirmed,” Alphaliner said. “Maersk, meanwhile, is not expected to place any large orders soon.”
Maersk has said on a number of occasions that it is content to keep its fleet at around 4m teu. As recently as last November, Maersk chief executive Søren Skou said the company had sufficient tonnage to compete and would only order replacement ships where necessary.
MSC needed to order new ships to replace older units and to accommodate growing cargo demand, according to Alphaliner.
“If MSC wants to increase cargo liftings by a fairly reasonable 3% each year, the carrier needs to add 361,000 teu to its fleet before the end of 2023, not accounting for new ship capacity to replace ageing vessels.”
Of the tonnage it does have on order, nearly 100,000 teu of capacity will not be delivered until 2024.
“MSC’s orderbook to current fleet ratio stands at 16.9% which is above the market average of around 15%,” the analyst said. “This appears ‘moderately ambitious’ when compared to Evergreen (52.9%), Wan Hai (36.9%) or Zim (35.5%).”
MSC had also been active in the chartering and secondhand market.
“Since August, MSC has purchased well over 30 ships, in the size range of 925 teu to 8,500 teu,” said Alphaliner. “While these acquisitions add to MSC’s fleet growth, the overall capacity effect is rather limited, since most of the larger units were already on charter to MSC when the carrier acquired them.
Nevertheless, buying these ships at the right moment permitted MSC to avoid paying the rapidly increasing charters for this tonnage.
Unlike Maersk, which has achieved much of its size in the market through the acquisition of other carriers, such as Sea-Land, P&O Nedlloyd and Hamburg Süd, MSC’s growth has been organic, with the Geneva-based line preferring to develop under its own steam.