Maersk and MSC Mediterranean Shipping Company (MSC) have agreed to end their eight-year partnership known as 2M when it expires in 2025. The three alliances in the container industry have come under repeated political criticism as freight rates have increased over the past few years, and the two largest container carriers have adopted divergent strategies.
In a joint statement, the two companies acknowledged, “MSC and Maersk recognize that much has changed since the two companies signed the 10-year agreement in 2015.” The dissolution of the 2M alliance paves the way for the continuation of individual strategies by both businesses.
The container industry was expanding rapidly and looking to establish global networks at the same time that the alliance was formed. The other major carriers joined similar alliances, The Alliance and Ocean Alliance, which led to recent criticism from elected officials and regulators pointing to the three alliances’ dominance. Some estimates put the alliances in charge of as much as 90% of the capacity on important shipping routes.
The carriers claim that the alliances were formed with the intention of ensuring competitive and cost-effective operations on the major trade lanes. As part of the agreements, the carriers use a mix of ships from different carriers to share space on important routes and keep regular schedules on those routes.
“2M was introduced at a time when the ocean carrier industry needed an injection of stability,” MSC commented after the agreement was announced. MSC says it expects the concept of ocean liner vessel sharing to continue to be relevant and beneficial to carriers and their customers, despite the fact that the company has grown significantly in recent years to become the largest carrier in the world in 2022.
MSC CEO Soren Toft made the following statement: “At MSC today, we continue to strengthen and modernize our fleet, providing us with the scale we need for the most comprehensive ocean and short-sea shipping network in the market.” MSC is thought to have the largest orderbook in the industry, with over 130 vessels with 1.8 million TEU capacity, according to Alphaliner. In 2022, MSC was an aggressive acquirer of secondhand vessels, despite being notoriously secretive about details of its business and strategy. There had been rumors in the industry that MSC, which has a total capacity of more than 4.6 million TEU at the moment, was outgrowing the alliance.
Maersk has taken a different approach in recent years, focusing on expanding its logistics operations through a series of significant acquisitions. Soren Skou, the airline’s recently retired CEO, had stated that the carrier was content with its current capacity of approximately 4.2 million TEUs. Maersk has stated that the replacement of its fleet and the beginning of an environmental initiative to use methanol to power its operations are among its most recent shipbuilding orders.
The 2M alliance was expected to last at least ten years under the terms of the agreement that was reached in 2015. The notice period for termination was two years. During the phase-out of the 2M alliance, both carriers say they will collaborate with their respective clients.
Although neither carrier claims that the alliances’ political criticism influenced the decision, the announcement today sparked immediate speculation regarding their futures. Sea-Intelligence’s analysis revealed that smaller, non-aligned carriers were once again losing market share to the three alliances, despite the fact that niche services helped them gain market positions over the past few years. In addition to the alliances, the major carriers have agreements with numerous smaller and regional carriers. These agreements date back several years, when the industry began to place a greater emphasis on feeder networks and regional hubs.