A recent survey conducted by maritime research firm Alphaliner has shed light on the intricate relationships between major container ports and shipping carriers in Europe, North America, and Asia. Contrary to assumptions that a carrier’s overall size directly correlates with its traffic exposure at each port, the study reveals nuanced dynamics shaped by the presence of home carriers and the operation of dedicated terminals.
In the analysis of ten significant container ports across the three continents, it was found that the world’s largest container line, MSC, emerged as the leading customer at seven of the surveyed ports. However, Qingdao witnessed COSCO claiming the top spot, while Hapag-Lloyd took precedence in Hamburg.
Alphaliner’s research, based on nominal vessel capacity and third-quarter vessel calls, emphasizes the impact of strong home carriers and dedicated terminals on port significance. For instance, MSC’s dominance at Antwerp-Bruges is attributed to its sister company TIL operating the MSC PSA European Terminal in collaboration with PSA, making it the largest container terminal in Europe.
Despite the lack of publicly available port throughput volumes per carrier, Alphaliner’s approach utilizes vessel capacity as a reliable indicator of a port’s importance in a carrier group’s network. The study focuses on major container gateways and hubs, representing a cross-section of the primary East-West trades.
A notable finding is observed in New York/New Jersey, where carrier rankings align with the Alphaliner Top 100 ranking, featuring MSC at number one, followed by Maersk, CMA CGM, COSCO, and Hapag-Lloyd.
In the Far East, the research includes China’s top three container ports, along with Singapore and Busan, providing insights into carrier preferences and influence. Shanghai, the world’s largest container port, sees COSCO ranking third in vessel capacity sent, despite being the fourth-largest carrier globally. The presence of a robust domestic network contributes to COSCO’s position, with some ships calling Shanghai on a weekly basis.
The survey also reveals MSC’s stronghold in Ningbo, contrasting with its weaker position in Qingdao, where COSCO claims the top spot. The influence of local carriers, such as Ningbo Ocean Shipping, plays a significant role in shaping carrier rankings.
In Southeast Asia, hub port choices impact carrier rankings, evident in Singapore’s top five customers benefiting from dedicated facilities for MSC, CMA CGM, COSCO, and Ocean Network Express.
The European segment of the study highlights Hapag-Lloyd’s dominance in Hamburg, attributed to its local headquarters and minority stake in the Container Terminal Altenwerder. Surprisingly, Maersk, a global industry giant, does not rank among the top five users in Hamburg, opting for Bremerhaven as its primary German hub.
Antwerp-Bruges emerges as a focal point, with MSC holding a staggering 35.7% of all visiting capacity. Rotterdam follows suit, where MSC leads with 20.3%, despite Maersk’s control of the APMT Maasvlakte II terminal.
In North America, the study underscores the region’s dependency on the top ten carriers. The Los Angeles and Long Beach twin port complex is dominated by COSCO, reflecting the traditional deployment strategy of Asian carriers in the Asia-North America trade.
The survey’s comprehensive insights into global port dynamics emphasize the multifaceted factors influencing carrier rankings and port significance, ultimately shaping the maritime industry’s landscape.