(Bloomberg) -- A.P. Moller-Maersk A/S is no longer the world’s largest container line.
The Danish carrier has been overtaken by Mediterranean Shipping Co. in terms of capacity, according to data compiled by Alphaliner and published on Wednesday. MSC’s fleet can carry 4,284,728 standard 20-foot containers, 1,888 more than Maersk, giving both a market share of 17%.
Maersk, which first entered containerized trade in 1975, has held the top spot for decades. The carrier has been a pioneer in the industry, often breaking records by building the biggest ships. More recently, it has invested in vessels that can sail on carbon-neutral methanol. It still has the most capacity in terms of owned vessels: MSC has about 65% of its capacity from chartered ships whereas Maersk only has 42%.
After struggling to make money for much of the past decade, the container shipping industry just had its most profitable year ever as pandemic-driven demand for consumer goods strains capacity on vessels. Freight rates out of Shanghai have jumped about five-fold over the last 18 months.
Both companies downplayed the shift.
“We never set a specific target to be the biggest,” MSC Chief Executive Officer Soren Toft said in an emailed comment on Wednesday, adding that he’s focusing on growth and profitability.
Maersk CEO Soren Skou last month reiterated in an interview that holding the top spot isn’t important for the Copenhagen-based company, which is investing on expanding its land-based logistics where profit margins are higher.
Closely held MSC, which is based in Geneva, is owned and managed by the Aponte family. In 2020, the company hired Toft, formerly heir apparent at Maersk, as its CEO. While the poaching of a potential future leader could sour relations between companies, Maersk and MSC still work together in areas such as a vessel-sharing partnership and a blockchain-based platform for sharing and streamlining shipping information.
(Updates with MSC CEO comment in sixth paragraph)
©2022 Bloomberg L.P.