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The Top Ocean Carriers of 2024

November 28, 2023 Kevin Baxter

Container Ships

The top ocean carriers of 2024 account for the vast majority of freight movement around the world. In fact, approximately 80 percent of goods are transported via steamship line at some point in their journey. Put another way, roughly 11 billion tons of cargo moved across the seas in 2021. Because of that, financial numbers for ocean carriers by company and combined are quite significant.

Total net profits for container shipping lines in 2022 were estimated at a record $215 billion, eclipsing the previous record of $148 billion set the year prior. Closer to home, international container shipping companies moved more than 40 percent of all freight value to and from the U.S. in 2021 - accounting for more $1.8 trillion worth - and about 69 percent of the weight (amounting to over 1.6 billion tons). Both of those were the top figures of any freight mode and include imports as well as exports.

In sum, if you're moving goods via international shipping services in any way, some portion of that journey is likely on the water. And that means knowing the best ocean carriers can help you know just who is responsible for carrying that cargo.

Top 12 Ocean Carriers

The top 12 ocean freight carriers are listed here by volume and market share. These can fluctuate year to year, but stopping at 12 accounts for the best international shipping companies with at least one percent of that share with the help of multiple sources which track these figures by TEU.  

  • MSC - Mediterranean Shipping Co.
  • Maersk
  • Hapag-Lloyd
  • Evergreen Line
  • ONE (Ocean Network Express)
  • HMM Co. Ltd.
  • Yang Ming Marine Transport
  • ZIM
  • Wan Hai Lines
  • PIL (Pacific International Lines)

What Is TEU?

TEU stands for twenty-foot equivalent units, which refer to 20-foot ocean containers. The TEU is a widely used unit of measurement in sea freight (and for freight shipping companies overall). For instance, TEUs are the units that convey a ship's capacity. Also, as noted above, TEUs measure a cargo shipping company's total volume.

Additionally, shippers and logistics companies should be well aware of these units of measurement, as ocean carriers provide rates via TEU. That means arriving at the total cost of a shipment involves multiplying the per-TEU shipping rate by the number of TEUs.

A twenty-foot equivalent unit can typically hold between nine and 11 pallets. While this container size is still in use, more common today are 40-foot containers - also referred to as FEUs for forty-foot equivalent units. Two TEUs equal one FEU in those capacity, volume and pricing calculations, though some may provide separate rates for FEUs. An FEU does hold roughly double a TEU, up to about 23 pallets.

Best Ocean Carriers

MSC - Mediterranean Shipping Company1200px-Mediterranean_Shipping_Company_logo.svg

Headquarters: Geneva, Switzerland

Website: www.msc.com

Founded: 1970


Headquarters: Copenhagen, Denmark

Website: www.maersk.com

Founded: 1904

CMA CGM1200px-CMA_CGM_logo.svg

Headquarters: Marseille, France

Website: www.cma-cgm.com

Founded: 1978

COSCO (China Ocean Shipping Company)COSCO_logo.svg

Headquarters: Beijing, China

Website: lines.coscoshipping.com

Founded: 1961


Headquarters: Hamburg, Germany

Website: www.hapag-lloyd.com

Founded: 1970

Evergreen Line2560px-Evergreen_Logo.svg

Headquarters: Taoyuan City, Taiwan

Website: www.evergreen-line.com

Founded: 1968

ONE (Ocean Network Express)Ocean_Network_Express_logo.svg

Headquarters: Singapore

Website: www.one-line.com

Founded: 2017

HMM (Hyundai Merchant Marine) Co. Ltd.HMM_Logo_Basic_Form

Headquarters: Seoul, South Korea

Website: www.hmm21.com

Founded: 1976

Yang Ming Marine Transport1280px-Yang_Ming_Line.svg

Headquarters: Keelung City, Taiwan

Website: www.yangming.com

Founded: 1972


Headquarters: Haifa, Israel

Website: www.zim.com

Founded: 1945

Wan Hai LinesWan Hai Logo

Headquarters: Taipei, Taiwan

Website: www.wanhai.com

Founded: 1965

PIL (Pacific International Lines)PIL Logo

Headquarters: Singapore

Website: www.pilship.com

Founded: 1967

As mentioned above, this list of 12 of the world's largest shipping companies account for the vast majority of ocean freight volume worldwide. Measured in TEU, that volume was well over 26 million last year, with between 5,500 and 6,500 ships active in circulation. The top sea freight carriers on this list account for in the neighborhood of four million TEU alone, boasting fleets of five, six and seven hundred-plus company ships in operation.

The challenge of getting your freight to or from the ports where the ships of these top ocean freight companies are docked is the other step to consider. Whether your preferred method is truckload, intermodal or a combination, we can help. Simply use our Request a Quote form to tell us a bit about your business and we'll get back to you to discuss how to put the best shipping companies to work for you. If you're interested in reading more from us, check out our Freight Guides

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