The capacity gap between the world’s two biggest liner operators narrowed further this year, according to Alphaliner.

AP Moller-Maersk's fleet shrunk in 2020, while Mediterranean Shipping Co (MSC)'s expanded by a modest 2.4% over the year, narrowing the gap between the liner operators to just 251,000 teu.

However, Geneva-based MSC has 10 ships on order totalling 179,280 teu, compared with Maersk’s tally of 21 smaller units of 54,558 teu.

Alphaliner’s annual ranking of the top-12 global liner operators still lists Maersk as the largest carrier by capacity.

But the Danish giant's fleet declined by 2%, or 85,814 teu, to 4.1m teu.

Maersk is one of four carriers to have reduced its fleets in 2020, but will still finish the year with a 17% market share.

MSC consolidated its position in second place with the addition of 89,879 teu, taking it to 3.85m teu.

But its chartered fleet would grow further if four 24,000-teu ships ordered this week by Chinese lessor BoComm Leasing were added to the list.

CMA CGM poised to reclaim third place

Eight carriers increased their fleet in 2020, with the largest capacity gains made by South Korean operator HMM and France’s CMA CGM.

Both carriers added more than 300,000 teu over the year.

Cosco Shipping Lines is the third-largest liner operator by fleet capacity. Photo: Pixabay

HMM climbed from the number 10 slot into eighth place, after an 85% capacity increase.

However, CMA CGM added the greatest number of ships, with 64 newcomers.

The French carrier remains in fourth position. It was overtaken by Cosco Shipping Lines in July 2018, when the China Cosco Shipping arm took over Hong Kong-based OOCL.

Cosco’s fleet grew a further 2.9% this year to just over 3m teu.

But CMA CGM is expected to regain third place from the Chinese carrier early next year with the delivery of the final five in a series of nine 23,115-teu newbuildings.

Delivery of the first four of these newbuildings, which began with the 23,115-teu CMA CGM Jacques Saade (built 2020), helped push the fleet of the Marseilles-based operator up by 11.8% this year to over 3m teu.

HMM's leads charge of smaller carriers

HMM was the only carrier not to reduce its fleet capacity this year due to Covid-19.

The South Korean operator logged impressive growth due to a newbuilding programme which saw 12 ships of 23,792 teu delivered over six months.

This culminated with the delivery in September of the 23,792-teu HMM St Petersburg (built 2020).

The Korean line also took redelivery of nine vessels of between 10,100 and 13,100 teu.

HMM is one of a group of smaller operators with fleets notably below 1m teu that made remarkable percentage gains in 2020.

Israeli operator Zim and Taiwan’s Wan Hai Lines saw their fleets grow by 22.8% and 15.6%, respectively, over the year.

The biggest loser was Pacific International Lines, which saw its fleet shrink by 28.9%.

The Singapore operator sank from ninth to 12th place in the rankings.

Its capacity shrank after the sale of 16 ships and the redelivery of the same number of chartered vessels.