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The history of  MSC Mediterranean Shipping Co SA Geneva

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The rise of MSC to near global status was achieved in the short period of 13 years only. It had been more than astonishing, and there was little to suggest when its first liner service between the Mediterranean, South and East Africa was launched between 1972 and 1975 that within 10 years it would rank among the world top ten container carriers. The company’s founder Gianluigi Aponte, is still very much at the core of MSC’s activities, and a relatively high proportion of his top management - many with a seafaring background - have been with the company for many years, giving a stability which is rare in today’s liner industry.

The fleet has been largely built up by an astute strategy of second-hand purchases, the bargaining prices enabling MSC to operate profitably at rate levels which its establishment rivals would once never have envisaged. I do still remember the aftermath of the purchase of the MSC Jade, previously a SAF Marine ship. She had been considered by her Hull underwriters as a constructive total loss because of un-repairable problems and damages to the engine. She was sold for scrap to breakers and purchased by MSC from the breakers brokers. MSC took delivery outside of Singapore and steamed at full speed into Durban harbour. There were many red faces in South Africa. Many of the former owners of MSC’s still perfectly adequate ships have looked on in dismay as it has extended its liner service network to almost every corner of the world map.

It has been an interesting and instructive to watch the changing fortunes of liner companies, and MSC’s own role in the changing liner shipping environment. Some of the former owners of MSC ships have now withdrawn from the industry, and its fierce rivals in the shipping establishment have grudgingly accepted its presence and acknowledged its status as a fearsome competitor, in several cases swallowing their pride and forging vessel-sharing partnerships with the upstart.

MSC has added a twist to the tale. Its bold entry to the Europe/Far East trade was actually accompanied by its first new buildings, the 3’300 TEU MSC ALEXA and MSC Rafaela, a third large ship, the MSC Don Giovanni, was bought mew from a German shipyard during 1996. The company’s geographic expansion continued apace in the course of the year. Besides de Europe/Far East service - which includes links to the Middle East Gulf, India and Pakistan via Jebel Ali and Colombo - new routes between the Mediterranean and West Africa, and between South/East Africa and the Middle East Gulf/South Asia were added. The latter route also connects South/east Africa with the Far East via transhipment in Colombo, an example of the interaction of MSC’s many separate links. The Mediterranean becomes a key transfer area, and services within the Mediterranean, Adriatic and into the Black Sea and Read Sea were all built up considerably during 1996.

Several ports play a significant rôle as transhipment hubs in the MSC network, and among them is Felixstowe, where the Medite Shipping Co. (UK) Ltd. welcomes on average one MSC mainline ship per day. Not surprisingly, MSC is actually the Port of Felixstowe’s largest customer, with around 250’000 boxes handled in 1996.

Credit for this achievement, and for the popularity of MSC, must be given to all the staff of MSC.

 "Land covers 1/3 of the earth - we cover the rest".

This message scrolls across the Mediterranean Shipping Company's website. It is no idle boast. The Mediterranean Shipping Company, commonly known as MSC, is the second largest container shipping company in the world with a fleet numbering about 140 vessels having a total slot capacity of around 650,000 TEU's. In 2002 MSC carried the equivalent of 4.8 million twenty-foot containers through 274 ports, ranging from Helsinki in the north to Bluff in New Zealand.

It is all a long way from 1970 when Italian Gianluigi Aponte founded the company in Geneva, with a borrowed capital of $5'000 and a small cargo ship. The ship was the "PATRICIA", a fifteen-year old former German vessel of 1,750 gross tons, joined the following year by the slightly older "RAFAELA" of 2,696 tons, also formerly under the German flag. Both were registered in the name of Mediterranean Shipping Company, of Monrovia, Liberia. With these two conventional cargo ships MSC began a "Liner" service between the Mediterranean and Somalia in 1971. As the fleet expanded so the routes extended, to Northern Europe, South Africa and the Red Sea in 1977 and into the Indian Ocean the following year.

Expansion was entirely through the judicious purchase of second hand ships, initially multi-purpose vessels, but increasingly purpose built Container ships as these became available. The highly competitive North Atlantic Container trade was entered in 1985 with the introduction of services from Europe to the East Coast of the United States. In 1989 a service between South Africa and Australia began. At first this operated at three-weekly intervals but was soon brought into line with the weekly frequency of most other MSC services. This service was subsequently extended to Europe and every week an MSC vessel sails on the direct Europe - Australia service, via South Africa. By utilising strategically located hub ports throughout the world all the MSC services interlink, giving those shipping with MSC access to destinations world-wide. With the company's container network expanding rapidly, in 1989 MSC turned its attention to the cruising industry by purchasing Lauro Lines. Lauro marketed their services under the style Starlauro Cruise hut the name was changed to Mediterranean Shipping Cruises in 1995. Finding the capacity of the three existing Starlauro ships inadequate for the potential clientele Mediterranean Shipping Cruises currently has new cruise ships on order. Cruising is now a focus for the company's future expansion.

After building up the container fleet with second-hand purchases MSC ordered its first new ships in 1994. Built by the Italian Fincantieri yard the "MSC ALEXA" was delivered in 1996 to become the first new-building in the MSC fleet. Currently 15 ships of 6,730 TEU each are on order. Five of these, worth some $600 million, will be owned by MSC and five chartered in. These container ships will be among the largest afloat and it is expected that they will be deployed on the service between Europe and the Far East.

Last year MSC was voted the Shipping Line of the Year in a British poll Headquartered in Geneva. Switzerland, the founder of this still privately owned company Gianluigi Aponte remains in control as the President of MSC leading a comparatively small team in Geneva of just 200 people. Elsewhere 450 offices look after the company's interests.

 2001 Author known by SwissShips