A massive expansion of Mediterranean Shipping Co (MSC)’s container ship fleet has doubled the fortune of principal Gianluigi Aponte.

The pandemic shut down the Switzerland-based group’s cruise ship fleet for a time, but record freight rates for the boxships mean Aponte is now worth $19bn, according to the Bloomberg Billionaires Index.

This makes the Italian former banker the 77th-richest person in the world.

VesselsValue records MSC as buying more than 150 container ships since early 2021.

The group was “unbelievably quick” in scaling up the business, said VesselsValue cargo analyst Felix Mathes.

“MSC was very confident in what they were doing,” he added.

Shipbroker Clarksons lists 494 ships in the owned fleet, including 55 on order.

The value of some of the older panamaxes has surged almost 400%, helping the group go on a buying spree.

In April, MSC agreed to buy the African transport and logistics business of France’s Bollore for €5.7bn ($6bn), including debt.

The group also acquired a stake in Italian ferry operator Moby in March.

Airline bid

And in January, MSC teamed up with Germany’s flagship airline, Deutsche Lufthansa, to bid for ITA, the successor to Alitalia, which has cost the Italian government billions of euros in bailouts.

Aponte, now 81, acquired his first vessel in 1970 after quitting a job in banking.

Since then, the privately held firm has also expanded into port terminals. His son, Diego, is group president and his daughter, Alexa, is group finance chief.

Like Aponte, other logistics billionaires have looked to capitalise on surging freight rates in the pandemic’s fallout.

Klaus-Michael Kuehne, the German tycoon who owns freight forwarder Kuehne + Nagel International and is an investor in container line Hapag-Lloyd, doubled his stake in Lufthansa last month.