Mediterranean Shipping Co., the world's second-largest ocean carrier, is closing the gap on market leader Maersk, by rapidly expanding its fleet through the deepest slump in container shipping, while its rivals shrink their capacity.
"MSC has been the odd carrier out during the last 15 months, adding to both its total operated capacity and its working fleet," according to AXS-Alphaliner, a Paris-based consultant.
MSC's market share, based on the actual working fleet after excluding idled ships has risen from 10.4 percent at the start of 2008 to 11.5 percent on April 1, 2009, Alphaliner said.
During the same period, Copenhagen-based Maersk Line's share has fallen from 16.1 percent to 14.1 percent and third-ranked French carrier CMA CGM's share has slipped from 7.6 percent to 7.1 percent.
Geneva-based MSC has narrowed the gap with Maersk to just 2.6 percent in market share, or 340,000 TEUs in capacity -- the narrowest gap between the No. 1 and No. 2 carriers in the history of containerization.
In 2008, MSC's traffic rose 5 percent to reach 10.5 million TEUs, compared with Maersk's 13.8 million TEUs.
While many ocean carriers have been idling their owned ships and returning charter vessels when they come off hire, MSC has been adding capacity by chartering ships at "bargain" rates, Alphaliner says.
In the past six months, MSC has chartered a dozen ships of 2,500 to 6,000 TEUs for between 12 months and 24 months and fixed 10 other vessels for shorter periods.
MSC's fleet also has been boosted by the addition of three 14,000-TEU ships and four 11,660-TEU vessels, all to be deployed in its Far East-Europe "Silk" service.
"The carrier seems unaffected by the downturn and is for the moment receiving its large newbuildings on schedule," Alphaliner comments. MSC's order book includes a further 41 ships of more than 12,500-TEU capacity.
Most carriers are actively laying up idle capacity, led by APL, which has taken out of service 21 ships of 3,300 to 6,400 TEUs, representing 22 percent of its total capacity.
MSC, by contrast, has idled just two vessels.