The global shipping industry has had a rough ride over the past decade. The shockwaves from the global financial crisis that broke out in 2008 are still rippling through an industry that is existentially dependent on the volume of world trade, and in particular trade in containerised cargoes and commodities. In the past ten years more than half the world’s top 20 shipping lines have disappeared – either through mergers or bankruptcy. Hardly any other global industry has experienced such a dramatic concentration process.
In April of last year the remaining shipping companies consolidated to form three major alliances, 2M, Ocean Alliance and THE Alliance, including all the world’s top ten container lines: 2M – MSC, Maersk and HMM – has 223 ships with a total capacity of around 2.4 million TEUs operating 25 weekly services covering 1,327 port pairs. The Ocean Alliance – CMA-CGM, Cosco Group, OOCL and Evergreen – has 323 ships with a total capacity of some 3.5 million TEUs operating 40 weekly services covering 1,571 port pairs. THE Alliance – Hapag Lloyd, NYK, Yang Ming, MOL and K-Line – has 241 ships with a total capacity of around 3.3 million TEUs operating 32 weekly services covering 1,152 port pairs.
These three alliances obviously have a great deal more market clout than individual shipping lines. Ports, in particular, are discovering that they are a powerful force in negotiations about harbour dues and the like. At the same time, keen competition between shipping lines is forcing them to order and operate ever-bigger ships to reduce their running costs. This, in turn, is again increasing the pressure on ports to expand and upgrade their infrastructure so as to be able to handle these mega-vessels. Experts agree that the consolidation process in global shipping is not over yet, but it is highly unlikely to continue at such breakneck pace.