Japan: The Shipping Industry And Market Consolidation: What Happens When The Music Stops?

Last Updated: 28 November 2016
Article by Joe Walsh, Conte Cicala and Matthew T. Drenan

In a follow-up to our article in October 2016 "Market consolidation and the regulatory review process: Which carrier will be left standing?" we consider the continued momentum of consolidation in the liner service space.

With three mergers, three planned alliances, and a bankruptcy to boot, 2016 had already marked the most transformative year in the post-containerized era. The music has not stopped yet, however; the three largest Japanese carriers, Nippon Yusen KK (NYK), Mitsui O.S.K Lines Ltd. (MOL), and Kawasaki Kisen Kaisha Ltd. (K-Line), recently announced plans to merge container operations through the formation of a joint venture by July 1, 2017, with services beginning by April 1, 2018. NYK plans to provide 38 percent of the equity with MOL and K Line each providing equal 31 percent shares. The newly formed joint venture will become the world's sixth largest container line and enjoy seven percent of the global market share (approximately 1.4 million TEU). While terminal operations worldwide (excluding Japan) will be included in the joint venture, other components of the companies such as bulk and ferry services will remain unintegrated.  

Home to nine of the ten largest container ports, Asia specifically has seen unprecedented market consolidation. Chinese controlled carriers, China Shipping and COSCO kicked off a cascading year of events in February by merging to form a single new entity, China COSCO Shipping Corp. Hanjin Shipping Co. Ltd.'s bankruptcy followed in August.  

These two events inevitably played a role in sparking the third, as the Japanese shipping lines' announcement came just two months after the world's seventh largest carrier filed for bankruptcy, in a region where it had once played a very substantial role. As President of NYK, Tadaaki Naito put it, "[t]he purpose of becoming one . . . is so none of us become zero."[1] Asia's three prominent shipping countries - China, Korea, and Japan - have now all been affected by the consolidation that has reshaped the global shipping industry in the span of one year.

Seasoned veteran and former Federal Maritime Commission (FMC) Chairman Richard A. Lidinsky, Jr. described the Japanese carriers' decision to merge as a proactive one, following Hanjin's failure, amid a global audience. Moreover, the former Chairman noted that the strengthened formation of China Shipping COSCO Shipping Corp., hurt the individual Japanese carriers, who have never been able to gain much traction in the Chinese market, and likely spurred initial talks that began in Spring 2016. 

But the Japanese shipping lines' merger is not a revelation, as carriers are implementing survival techniques akin to corporate Darwinism. Cutting costs is the name of the game, with mergers and alliance-shifting aimed at squeezing every bit of efficiency out of redundant corporate make-ups. An unprecedented surplus in market capacity (excess tonnage) and a stagnant world-economy have made freight rates none other than a race to the bottom.

Mass consolidation also comes as no surprise to Lidinsky: "Consolidation is something we have expected for the last ten to twelve years. This is not something we should be afraid of – the market will rebound, it's just a matter of time." The shipping industry is certainly entering a brave new world, and as Chairman Lidinsky recognized, "a lean market has never been adverse to the interests of the shipper."  

The nuts and bolts of the merger will essentially require worldwide regulatory approval, including that of the United States' Department of Justice (DOJ) Antitrust Division, and the Federal Trade Commission (FTC). The DOJ/FTC Horizontal Merger Guidelines detail the techniques utilized to determine whether a merger will reduce competition. The Guidelines explain that mergers "should not be permitted to create, enhance, or entrench market power or to facilitate its exercise . . . . A merger enhances market power if it is likely to encourage one or more firms to raise price, reduce output, diminish innovation, or otherwise harm customers as a result of diminished competitive constraints or incentives."[2]

The Japanese merger emulates an all too common narrative. Like others, the merger tracks previous plans to realign, and combine resources through a newly-formed alliance. "THE Alliance" was originally slated to include six carriers, including Hanjin, Hapag-Lloyd, UASC, Yang Ming, MOL, K-Line, and NYK Line.  Now the alliance will include just three, following the merger of Hapag-Lloyd and UASC, and the now dominant presence of the Japanese joint venture. The former five carriers will now partner with just Yang Ming, one of the few Asian shipping lines left completely intact.

A horizontal merger, such as the Japanese joint venture, does not fall within the regulatory scope of the FMC, as the Commission – through the enforcement of the Shipping Act of 1984, as amended – exclusively evaluates the anti-competitive efficacy of proposed ocean carrier agreements. It is undeniable, however, that market consolidation (and concentration) reduces competition, which will inevitably complicate the approval and monitoring process of agreements moving forward.

The long-term question ultimately is, how much consolidation is too much? "Only time will tell," noted the former Chairman, "but one thing is for sure, there is a tipping point at which decreased market diversification [i.e. fewer carriers] could negatively impact the shipper/consumer."  The FMC, given its view of itself as principally a consumer protection agency, will inevitably view the market through the lens of the shipper. Regardless of perspective, consolidation, alone, may not normalize freight rates unless the overcapacity saturating the market is similarly resolved.  


1 Leo Lewis and Kana Inagaki, Japanese companies bury the hatchet to survive, Financial Times, Nov. 3, 2016.

2 U.S. Dep't of Justice & Fed. Trade Comm'n, Horizontal Merger Guidelines (2010), available at https://www.ftc.gov/sites/default/files/attachments/merger-review/ I 00819hmg.pdf.

The Shipping Industry And Market Consolidation: What Happens When The Music Stops?

The content of this article is intended to provide a general guide to the subject matter. Specialist advice should be sought about your specific circumstances.

To print this article, all you need is to be registered on Mondaq.com.

Click to Login as an existing user or Register so you can print this article.

Some comments from our readers…
“The articles are extremely timely and highly applicable”
“I often find critical information not available elsewhere”
“As in-house counsel, Mondaq’s service is of great value”

Related Topics
Related Articles
Up-coming Events Search
Font Size:
Mondaq on Twitter
Mondaq Free Registration
Gain access to Mondaq global archive of over 375,000 articles covering 200 countries with a personalised News Alert and automatic login on this device.
Mondaq News Alert (some suggested topics and region)
Select Topics
Registration (please scroll down to set your data preferences)

Mondaq Ltd requires you to register and provide information that personally identifies you, including your content preferences, for three primary purposes (full details of Mondaq’s use of your personal data can be found in our Privacy and Cookies Notice):

  • To allow you to personalize the Mondaq websites you are visiting to show content ("Content") relevant to your interests.
  • To enable features such as password reminder, news alerts, email a colleague, and linking from Mondaq (and its affiliate sites) to your website.
  • To produce demographic feedback for our content providers ("Contributors") who contribute Content for free for your use.

Mondaq hopes that our registered users will support us in maintaining our free to view business model by consenting to our use of your personal data as described below.

Mondaq has a "free to view" business model. Our services are paid for by Contributors in exchange for Mondaq providing them with access to information about who accesses their content. Once personal data is transferred to our Contributors they become a data controller of this personal data. They use it to measure the response that their articles are receiving, as a form of market research. They may also use it to provide Mondaq users with information about their products and services.

Details of each Contributor to which your personal data will be transferred is clearly stated within the Content that you access. For full details of how this Contributor will use your personal data, you should review the Contributor’s own Privacy Notice.

Please indicate your preference below:

Yes, I am happy to support Mondaq in maintaining its free to view business model by agreeing to allow Mondaq to share my personal data with Contributors whose Content I access
No, I do not want Mondaq to share my personal data with Contributors

Also please let us know whether you are happy to receive communications promoting products and services offered by Mondaq:

Yes, I am happy to received promotional communications from Mondaq
No, please do not send me promotional communications from Mondaq
Terms & Conditions

Mondaq.com (the Website) is owned and managed by Mondaq Ltd (Mondaq). Mondaq grants you a non-exclusive, revocable licence to access the Website and associated services, such as the Mondaq News Alerts (Services), subject to and in consideration of your compliance with the following terms and conditions of use (Terms). Your use of the Website and/or Services constitutes your agreement to the Terms. Mondaq may terminate your use of the Website and Services if you are in breach of these Terms or if Mondaq decides to terminate the licence granted hereunder for any reason whatsoever.

Use of www.mondaq.com

To Use Mondaq.com you must be: eighteen (18) years old or over; legally capable of entering into binding contracts; and not in any way prohibited by the applicable law to enter into these Terms in the jurisdiction which you are currently located.

You may use the Website as an unregistered user, however, you are required to register as a user if you wish to read the full text of the Content or to receive the Services.

You may not modify, publish, transmit, transfer or sell, reproduce, create derivative works from, distribute, perform, link, display, or in any way exploit any of the Content, in whole or in part, except as expressly permitted in these Terms or with the prior written consent of Mondaq. You may not use electronic or other means to extract details or information from the Content. Nor shall you extract information about users or Contributors in order to offer them any services or products.

In your use of the Website and/or Services you shall: comply with all applicable laws, regulations, directives and legislations which apply to your Use of the Website and/or Services in whatever country you are physically located including without limitation any and all consumer law, export control laws and regulations; provide to us true, correct and accurate information and promptly inform us in the event that any information that you have provided to us changes or becomes inaccurate; notify Mondaq immediately of any circumstances where you have reason to believe that any Intellectual Property Rights or any other rights of any third party may have been infringed; co-operate with reasonable security or other checks or requests for information made by Mondaq from time to time; and at all times be fully liable for the breach of any of these Terms by a third party using your login details to access the Website and/or Services

however, you shall not: do anything likely to impair, interfere with or damage or cause harm or distress to any persons, or the network; do anything that will infringe any Intellectual Property Rights or other rights of Mondaq or any third party; or use the Website, Services and/or Content otherwise than in accordance with these Terms; use any trade marks or service marks of Mondaq or the Contributors, or do anything which may be seen to take unfair advantage of the reputation and goodwill of Mondaq or the Contributors, or the Website, Services and/or Content.

Mondaq reserves the right, in its sole discretion, to take any action that it deems necessary and appropriate in the event it considers that there is a breach or threatened breach of the Terms.

Mondaq’s Rights and Obligations

Unless otherwise expressly set out to the contrary, nothing in these Terms shall serve to transfer from Mondaq to you, any Intellectual Property Rights owned by and/or licensed to Mondaq and all rights, title and interest in and to such Intellectual Property Rights will remain exclusively with Mondaq and/or its licensors.

Mondaq shall use its reasonable endeavours to make the Website and Services available to you at all times, but we cannot guarantee an uninterrupted and fault free service.

Mondaq reserves the right to make changes to the services and/or the Website or part thereof, from time to time, and we may add, remove, modify and/or vary any elements of features and functionalities of the Website or the services.

Mondaq also reserves the right from time to time to monitor your Use of the Website and/or services.


The Content is general information only. It is not intended to constitute legal advice or seek to be the complete and comprehensive statement of the law, nor is it intended to address your specific requirements or provide advice on which reliance should be placed. Mondaq and/or its Contributors and other suppliers make no representations about the suitability of the information contained in the Content for any purpose. All Content provided "as is" without warranty of any kind. Mondaq and/or its Contributors and other suppliers hereby exclude and disclaim all representations, warranties or guarantees with regard to the Content, including all implied warranties and conditions of merchantability, fitness for a particular purpose, title and non-infringement. To the maximum extent permitted by law, Mondaq expressly excludes all representations, warranties, obligations, and liabilities arising out of or in connection with all Content. In no event shall Mondaq and/or its respective suppliers be liable for any special, indirect or consequential damages or any damages whatsoever resulting from loss of use, data or profits, whether in an action of contract, negligence or other tortious action, arising out of or in connection with the use of the Content or performance of Mondaq’s Services.


Mondaq may alter or amend these Terms by amending them on the Website. By continuing to Use the Services and/or the Website after such amendment, you will be deemed to have accepted any amendment to these Terms.

These Terms shall be governed by and construed in accordance with the laws of England and Wales and you irrevocably submit to the exclusive jurisdiction of the courts of England and Wales to settle any dispute which may arise out of or in connection with these Terms. If you live outside the United Kingdom, English law shall apply only to the extent that English law shall not deprive you of any legal protection accorded in accordance with the law of the place where you are habitually resident ("Local Law"). In the event English law deprives you of any legal protection which is accorded to you under Local Law, then these terms shall be governed by Local Law and any dispute or claim arising out of or in connection with these Terms shall be subject to the non-exclusive jurisdiction of the courts where you are habitually resident.

You may print and keep a copy of these Terms, which form the entire agreement between you and Mondaq and supersede any other communications or advertising in respect of the Service and/or the Website.

No delay in exercising or non-exercise by you and/or Mondaq of any of its rights under or in connection with these Terms shall operate as a waiver or release of each of your or Mondaq’s right. Rather, any such waiver or release must be specifically granted in writing signed by the party granting it.

If any part of these Terms is held unenforceable, that part shall be enforced to the maximum extent permissible so as to give effect to the intent of the parties, and the Terms shall continue in full force and effect.

Mondaq shall not incur any liability to you on account of any loss or damage resulting from any delay or failure to perform all or any part of these Terms if such delay or failure is caused, in whole or in part, by events, occurrences, or causes beyond the control of Mondaq. Such events, occurrences or causes will include, without limitation, acts of God, strikes, lockouts, server and network failure, riots, acts of war, earthquakes, fire and explosions.

By clicking Register you state you have read and agree to our Terms and Conditions