A close-up side view of a ship carrying blue, red and green containers.

The Top 5 Global Container Shipping Companies and their 2020 Sulphur Cap initiatives

Container shipping – the world’s first, truly global industry. It connects countries, markets, businesses and people, allowing them to buy and sell goods on a scale that was not seen before. 

The needs of a rapidly growing world population can only be met by transporting fright and resources globally between continents and countries.
The container shipping industry has made this process so efficient that it changed the shape of the world economy. This benefits us, the consumers, by creating choice, generating employment, boosting economies and keeping cost down.
In 2017, container lines scored the first profitable year since 2010, and they appear serious about carrying that momentum into 2018.
The massive container ships that transport our everyday goods around the world keep getting bigger. So are the companies that own them.

The five biggest container lines control about 60 percent of the global market. 

How will the container shipping industry deal with the 2020 Sulphur Regulations?

The International Maritime Organization (IMO) has agreed to reduce the global sulfur emissions limit to 0.5 percent in 2020. Ship owners around the world now need to adopt solutions to lower the exhaust emissions and improve fuel efficiency. The move from 3.5 to 0.5 percent will add extra costs to the shipping industry at a time when parts of it are going through their worst ever downturn. Analysts estimate the additional costs for the container shipping sector alone could be $35-$40 billion.

Container shipping has become a game only for big boys with deep pockets.

Let´s have a closer look into the 5 biggest players within this industry.


The biggest player in the container shipping industry, is the Danish A.P. Møller-Maersk A/S. Founded in 1904 by captain Peter Maersk Møller and his son Arnold Peter (A. P.). Today the company has subsidiaries and offices across 130 countries and employs around 90,000 people.

2020 – Initiatives:

– The first of the big container lines to strictly decide to not go for scrubbers
– Switching to lighter fuel MGO, MDO
– Investing into new Waste Heat Recovery systems, like Climeon, to reduce fuel consumption

2.Mediterranean Shipping Company

The world´s second largest container line is the privately owned Mediterranean Shipping Company S.A., with its headquarters in Geneva, Switzerland. MSC was established in Naples in 1970 by captain Gianluigi Aponte when he bought his first ship, the breakbulk vessel MSC Patricia. The company, today has more than 480 offices in 155 countries and is employing over 70,000 individuals.

2020 – Initiatives:

– Retrofitting scrubbers on applicable part of the fleet
– Newbuild program with focus on environmental gains
– Big retrofitting initiative (€250.000.000) for whole fleet to be able to comply with the 2020 regulations


 The French, CMA CGM S.A., headquartered in Marseille, is the world´s third biggest container shipping company. CMA CGM as we know it today was established through a merger by the French government of Messageries Maritimes and Compagnie Generale Transatlantique, between 1974 and 1977.The history of the company can be traced back to the mid-1850s. CMA CGM is present in more than 160 countries through a network if 755 agencies, and employs more than 29,000 people.

2020 – Initiatives:
– First of the big container liners to equip their 9 ULCVs (22,000 TEU) with LNG propulsion
– Low Sulphur Surcharge since 1st January 2015
– Focus on Low Sulphur Fuel

4.COSCO Shipping Lines

The China Ocean Shipping Company or COSCO is a Chinese state-owned shipping company and the fourth largest container liner worldwide. It was founded in 1961, its headquarters are in Beijing. In 2016 COSCO merged with China Shipping Group. COSCO is employer to more than 130.000 people. 

2020 – Initiatives:
– Low Sulphur Fuel
– Retrofit scrubbers on applicable part of the fleet
– Focusing on performance efficiency and fuel economy to reduce consumption of more expensive MDO 


The number 5 is the German-based Hapag-Lloyd. The company was formed in 1970 by the merger of the Hamburg America Line (HAPAG) and Norddeutscher Lloyd (NDL). Today Hapag-Lloyd is present in 126 countries and is employing more than 13,000 people.

2020 – Initiatives:
– No plans for retrofitting scrubbers
– No plans for retrofitting engines to burn LNG
– Hapag-Lloyd will meet the regulation by switching 0.5% Sulphur marine fuel

Different approaches

So, how will the container shipping industry deal with the 2020 Sulphur Regulations?

What we can see is that there is not one way, or one solution. The companies have different approaches to the topic – Low Sulphur Fuel, Scrubbers, or a mix of both, the way forward is not defined yet.

No matter which way the different liners chose to comply, one thing they all have in common – if they want to be competitive in the future, they must be as efficient and as green as possible. They need to extract the maximum amount of energy out of their chosen solution. 

Read more about the 2020 Sulphur Regulation and the different solution approaches here

If you like to learn more about Climeon Heat Power within the maritime industry, feel free to contact me directly This information is based on a few interviews and desktop research, if your company is included in the article and you find that I have described you in a wrong way, please let me know and suggest changes.