February 18, 2023

Smaller shipping companies see their growth affected by the collapse of world demand

According to Alphaliner’s top-30 shipping lines, there have been a large number of changes in positions 11 to 30 over the last twelve months. Specifically, the capacity changes of smaller shipping companies ranged from -34.6% for China United Lines (CULines) to +55.3% for Emirates Shipping Line.

These capacity changes had only a modest effect on the overall picture. This week’s capacity count of the world’s ten largest shipping lines shows that they account for 83.7% of the total global container fleet. Meanwhile, the combined share of shipping lines that occupy positions 11 to 30 only represent 9.4% of the global container fleet.

Medium carriers have not gained market share as their combined growth since 1 January 2022 stands at just 2.1%, which is roughly half the growth recorded by the total container fleet.

Not surprisingly, smaller shipping lines, which ventured into East-West routes when these were booming during the COVID-19 pandemic, have been hit hardest by the collapse in cargo demand from China to Europe and North America.

Chinese operator CULines recorded the largest fleet reduction year-on-year: Following the closure of its Far East – North Europe ‘AEX’ service and an agreement with Antong Holdings for the early re-delivery of a number of panamax vessels, the CULines fleet size has fallen from 87,160 TEUs at the beginning of last year to 56,960 TEUs this week (-34.6%).

CULines’ entry into East-West routes propelled it to 22nd place in early 2022, but the carrier is now 29th in this week’s Alphaliner top30.

On the other hand, Wan Hai Lines and Matson are two shipping companies that significantly expanded their capacity in the Trans-Pacific when this route was booming. Both companies had to react to the drop in cargo demand on this trade route by closing services.

Despite the delivery of its first two vessels of 13,100 TEUs, Wan Hai Lines’ current fleet is only 12,940 TEUs larger than at the beginning of 2022 (+3.1%). And, Matson’s fleet contracted 2.1% and dropped two spots out of the top-30 to 28th.

The biggest winner among midsize carriers is Pacific International Lines (PIL). Its fleet is currently almost 30,500 TEUs larger than on January 1, 2022 (+11.4%). Specifically, Emirates Shipping Line and Swire were the shipping companies with the highest percentage growth.

While Swire’s 41.9% growth is clearly linked to the acquisition of Westwood Shipping Lines, Emirates Shipping Line’s growth was organic, as the carrier expanded its intra-Asian network and began operating more ships to replace existing ones. Space agreements on the ships of the associated shipping companies.

Zhonggu Logistics (+14.5%) is another shipping company that no longer focuses solely on its main Chinese domestic services, but is expanding its intra-Asian routes. Notably, all of the top 11-30 Korean operators reduced their fleets last year.