In 2020, the size of the ocean freight market was estimated at 64 million TEUs.i It’s hard to imagine the sheer magnitude of that volume of freight. However, consider the fact that AT&T Stadium, home of the Dallas Cowboys, has an interior volume of about 76,740 standard TEUs.ii  To understand 64 million TEUs, imagine filling 834 professional football stadiums. 

In other words, the global ocean freight market is massive! In this article, we’ll talk about the biggest players in the market so you can get a sense of who’s operating in this field.  

Since we have a particular interest (and expertise) in Pacific lanes, we’ll start by discussing the U.S. companies who service Hawaii. Then, we’ll widen our scope and look at the rest of the world.  

The Largest U.S. Container Shipping Companies Servicing Hawaii 

Port of Waikiki

When it comes to moving containers from U.S. ports to Hawaii, there are two major players in the market: Matson and Pasha.  


Matson’s Hawaii service got its start in 1882, when Captain William Matson arrived in Hilo with a schooner full of food, merchandise, and supplies. Since then, the Matson company has been involved in all kinds of industries in Hawaii, including passenger transportation, military support, luxury accommodations, and even art.iii Today, Matson remains the largest Jones Act player carrying goods between U.S. destinations and Hawaii. 


Honolulu, HI

Fleet Size

20 owned, 10 chartered iv

Active capacity

62,329 TEUs v

Pasha Hawaii

Pasha’s Hawaii service started around World War II, when the company’s San Francisco operation began offering services to troops deployed to Hawaii. However, the company didn’t make a major investment in the market until 1999, when they officially opened the Pasha Hawaii arm. Most recently, Pasha Hawaii has invested in two LNG-fueled ships that will be added to their fleet by the end of 2021, expanding their fleet’s capacity by about 5,000 TEUs. In other words, although they’re a newer arrival to this market, Pasha Hawaii has demonstrated a commitment to investing in its future. 


Honolulu, HI

Fleet Size

5 Pacific vessels active, one in reserve vi

Active capacity

~10,880 TEUs vii

In addition to Matson and Pasha, a few other U.S. container shipping companies operate within Hawaii. Young Brothers operates a significant interisland shipping business, with eight barges that move between Kauai, Maui, Molokai, Lanai, Oahu, and both sides of the Big Island. Additionally, Aloha Marine Lines maintains every-other-week service from Seattle to Honolulu. One long-term operation, Sause Brothers, used to operate a barge service from Oregon to Hawaii. However, they ended it in April 2020, selling their barges to Aloha Marine Lines.viii  

Now, let’s take a wider view and look at the largest shipping container companies in the world. 

The 5 Largest Container Shipping Companies Operating Internationally 

Cargo ship docked off port

A.P. Moller–Maersk

A.P. Moller–Maersk is a member of the A.P. Moller Group, which includes organizations as diverse as a food packaging company, a bank, an investment fund, a drilling company, and an electronics integrator focused on wind power solutions.ix A.P. Moller–Maersk was founded by a father-and-son duo as Dampskibsselskabet Svendborg (The Steamship Company Svendborg) in 1904 with the purchase of a second-hand steamer. Today, it’s grown to become one of the largest shipping companies in the world.x  


Copenhagen, Denmark

Fleet Size

718 ships xi

Active capacity

4.1M TEUs xii

Mediterranean Shipping Company (MSC)

After starting with a single ship in 1970, MSC currently has a presence in 155 countries and a global team of more than 100,000 employees who move ~23 million TEUs each year.xiii Recently, MSC invested in a cutting-edge piece of green technology: an air lubrication system that will decrease hull resistance, improve fuel efficiency, and reduce carbon emissions. The company plans to implement its Silverstream System on several of its ships currently in line for production.xiv 


Geneva, Switzerland

Fleet Size

600 ships iv

Active capacity

4.0M TEUs xvi

COSCO Shipping Corporation

COSCO Shipping Group is the result of a merger of two companies: 1) China Ocean Shipping (Group) Company (COSCO) and 2) China Shipping (Group) Company (China Shipping). The result is an organization that owns an impressive 1,371 total vessels across its dry bulk fleet, tanker fleet, and general and specialized cargo fleet.xvii The merger took place on January 4, 2016, so the combined entity is relatively new. However, the COSCO arm has been in existence since 1961, when it was founded as the first international ocean shipping company of the People’s Republic of China.xviii 


Shanghai, China

Fleet Size

497 ships xix

Active capacity

3.08M TEUs xx


Founded by Jacques Saadé, the French company CMA CGM started in 1978 with a route that connected Beirut, Lebanon; Latakia, Syria; Livorno, Italy; and Marseille, France. Today, the company’s more than 500 vessels reach 420 ports in 160 countries.xxi The company has also made a significant commitment to environmentally sustainable business practices, already achieving a 50% reduction in its CO2 emissions per TEU between 2005 and 2015.xxii  


Marseille, France

Fleet Size

542 ships xxiii

Active capacity

3.0M TEUs xxiv


Founded in 1847 as Hamburg-Amerikanische Packetfahrt-Actien-Gesellschaft (abbreviated as Hapag), Hapag-Lloyd started with the mission of running a reliable liner service between Hamburg and New York. Their early vessels broke records for their speedy passage. Westward averages hovered at 40 days, while eastbound passages could be as short as 28 days, with the help of the western wind. In 1970, the company merged with North German Lloyd, a former shipping rival. Today, Hapag-Lloyd serves customers in 394 locations in North & South Europe, Asia, Latin America, North America, and the Middle East.xxv 


Hamburg, Germany

Fleet Size

250 ships xxvi

Active capacity

1.7M TEUs xxvii

Discovering the Companies That Move the World Forward 

If you’re not in the industry, you may not think about ocean freight on a daily basis. However, considering that ocean freight delivers 40.2% of international freight by value and 69.9% of international freight by weight,xxviii it plays a large role in everyone’s life. After all, ocean freight delivers the supplies, raw materials, and finished products that businesses and individuals rely on every day. Now that you know a little about the top container shipping companies in the world, you have a sense of the organizations and the people who keep global freight moving forward. 


Want to talk more about your container freight? One of our experts would be happy to make sure your freight is traveling the right routes with the right carriers. Just reach out for a complimentary consultation to get started.  






























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