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CMA CGM could displace Maersk as second-largest container line

French carrier CMA CGM is poised to overtake Maersk Line as the world's second-largest liner operator, with its aggressive newbuilding orders and second-hand vessel purchases, according to Alphaliner's report.

CMA CGM's current fleet comprises 625 ships of 3.49 million TEUs, while it has 122 ships of 1.24 million TEUs on order.

In comparison, Maersk Line's fleet, which stands at 4.14 million TEUs, has just 32 ships of 400,000 TEUs under construction. If the Danish operator, which was displaced by Mediterranean Shipping Company (MSC) at the top of the liner rankings in 2022, does not acquire more vessels, by 2026, it will have just 4.54 million TEUs when all its new ships are ready, while CMA CGM would surpass Maersk Line with 4.73 million TEUs.

Alphaliner remarked, "As per mid-July, the French Line’s orderbook stands at 35.5% of the carrier’s existing fleet capacity. Unlike MSC, which accelerated its fleet expansion through newbuilding and by means of an absolutely massive second-hand buying programme, CMA CGM has taken a somewhat different approach and it also procured numerous mid-sized vessels through a tidal wave of charters. This includes both ships from the spot market and new tonnage that will join the carrier upon delivery."

CMA CGM’s operated fleet first crossed the 1 million TEUs threshold in July 2009 and it took the carrier five years to pass the 2 million TEU milestone in July 2016. 

At the time, CMA CGM’s takeover of Neptune Orient Lines (APL) propelled the group’s liner fleet from 1.79 million TEUs to 2.34 million TEUs. 

Like MSC, CMA CGM began active purchases of pre-owned ships when freight rates began ascending to historical highs in 2020. The French line has purchased 427,000 TEUs of ships of all sizes. CMA CGM has also committed to 170 vessel charters since the start of 2023 and has been the most aggressive charterer among liner operators.

In a weakening market, CMA CGM might very well let go of older, less efficient ships in 2024, when charters expire. The company is scheduled to receive about 500,000 TEUs of newbuildings from now until the end of 2024.

In 2025, fleet additions will be relatively low at just 200,000 TEUs, before doubling to 400,000 TEUs in 2026. Assuming that half of CMA CGM’s orderbook is for growth and half of it will be for fleet replacement, the carrier's fleet would stabilise at 4.2 million TEUs in late 2026.

The same assumptions would still put Maersk slightly ahead at 4.34 million TEUs, but the Danish line has repeatedly stated that it does not plan to grow its fleet beyond its current 4.14 million TEUs. Maersk Line has emphasised that its newbuildings aim to replace conventionally-fuelled tonnage with more modern, eco-friendly vessels powered by green methanol.

Martina Li
Asia Correspondent

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