The Largest Container Ship Fleets in the World

Container shipping is an essential part of global trade.
Container shipping is an essential part of global trade.

Container shipping is an important and often overlooked piece of the global economy. In fact, this industry has helped shape the world's current trade practices. Container ship fleets transport everything from food to vehicles and home goods to raw materials. On any given day, the world's oceans may have nearly 6,000 active water vessels moving from one international port to another. These ships may be owned by a number of global corporations. This article takes a closer look at which of these organizations run and operate the largest container ship fleets in the world.

A.P. Moller-Maersk

A.P. Moller-Maersk Group operates Maersk Line, the largest container shipping fleet in the world, a position it has held since 1996. The company manages 636 active ships and the equivalent of 3.8 million twenty-foot equivalent units (TEUs, a measurement of the intermodal containers used by cargo vessels). This measurement represents 15.1% of the current global TEU carrying capacity. The company was founded in 1904 in Denmark, where it remains today. The A.P. Moller-Maersk Group headquarters are located in Copenhagen, although the company has offices in 130 countries, and employs approximately 88,000 workers.

Mediterranean Shipping Company

The Mediterranean Shipping Company (MSC) owns the second largest container shipping fleet in the world, managing 512 active ships and the equivalent of 2.435 million TEUs. This company was founded in 1970 in Naples, Italy, but current headquarters are located in Geneva, Switzerland. MSC has 480 offices in 150 countries, employs more than 24,000 workers, and operates over 200 sailing routes that service 315 ports.


CMA CGM (translated to English as Maritime Freighting Company - General Maritime Company) runs the third largest container shipping fleet in the world, which includes 461 active ships. Together, these ships carry 2.208 million TEUs to 420 ports located in 150 countries around the world. This company began as two separate shipping lines in the mid 19th century. Each was owned by the government after World War II, and the two merged in the 1970s. Today, the company has 775 offices around the world, with headquarters in Marseilles, France and Norfolk, Virginia, United States. CMA CGM employs approximately 29,000 workers.

China Ocean Shipping Company

The fourth largest container shipping fleet in the world is owned by the China Ocean Shipping Company, also known as COSCO. The organization has 313 active ships, which have a carrying capacity of 1.58 million TEUs. COSCO is headquartered in Beijing, China, where it is managed as a state-owned enterprise. According to reports, the shipping fleet delivers and picks up goods at more than 1,000 ports around the world. In 2016, the COSCO Group merged with the China Shipping Group and is now known as China COSCO Shipping.


Hapag-Lloyd runs the fifth largest container shipping fleet in the world, with 220 active ships. This organization was created in 1970 through the merger of two other shipping lines: Hamburg America Lina (founded in 1847) and North German Lloyd (founded in 1856). Today, company headquarters are located in Hamburg, Germany. Hapag-Lloyd employs more than 9,300 workers around the world.

The Largest Container Ship Fleets In The World

RankContainer Shipping CompanyNumber of ships
1A.P. Moller-Maersk Group636
6Evergreen Line194
9Hamburg Sud105
10NYK Line100

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