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Just how big are the global container shipping alliances?

The world’s top two container lines —  Switzerland’s MSC and Denmark’s Maersk — have cooperated since 2015 in the 2M alliance, a partnership they will end in 2025. Because MSC and Maersk have the biggest fleets, controlling over a third of all global capacity between them, 2M is the largest alliance, right?

Not so, explained container shipping data provider and analyst Alphaliner. “The picture can be deceiving,” it said.

The three global alliances — 2M, Ocean Alliance and THE Alliance — cover the major east-west trades (Asia-U.S., Asia-Europe, Europe-U.S.) and 2M is actually the smallest of the three.

Alliances are multiyear vessel-sharing agreements approved by regulators that allow carrier members to offer joint services and cooperate on capacity management. Shipping lines only dedicate a portion of their ships to alliances. The remainder are used for north-south trades, intra-Asia service and other routes.

The membership of the three alliances comprises the world’s top nine liner operators. These nine carriers control 83% of the global capacity between them. Yet the capacity these nine carriers dedicate to the three alliances represents a much smaller share: 39%.

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