Danish shipping



A massive industry for a small nation.


Photographs: iStock

Text: Mariano Anthony Davies


The Vikings came from modern-day Denmark, Norway and Sweden – collectively known as Scandinavia. Their ability to build seaworthy ships allowed them to settle in Ireland, England, Scotland, Wales, Greenland, North America, parts of Europe and beyond.


Their ship designs and access to oak were the keys to their success. Although the construction methods remained the same, several types of ships were produced and developed in the Viking period. The longship is the most well-known of these, and those of the later Viking Age was highly specialised vessels constructed to reach high speeds and transport troops. Their long, narrow shape made them highly manoeuvrable and fast, but this also meant a limited cargo capacity.


Danish shipping

The Danish Shipping Organisation was founded on 17 January 1884 in Copenhagen. The founding fathers all belonged to a group of industrious and enterprising shipowners who ventured into the steamship business. They did that at a time when sailing ships were still a significant majority in Denmark. To best protect their joint interest, they formed the Steamship Owners’ Organisation.


Half of the members of this trade and employer organisation in 2021 own ships registered in Denmark, and the other half run their activities in Denmark under other flags of State. There are over 90 members, and the Maersk Group is by far the biggest and has grown into a leading global group.



The journey towards modern shipping

Captain Peter Mærsk Møller took part in one of the most significant changes in shipping - the move from sail to steam in the late 1800s. Born in 1836, on the island of Rømø, Peter Møller was given the middle name Mærsk after his mother, Kirsten Pedersdatter Mærsk, whose family originated from West Slesvig. However, the name Mærsk can be traced back to 1617, to Anders Nielsen Mersch, who lived in Ballum, just south of Ribe.


Peter Mærsk Møller first went to sea as a cabin boy in 1850 and passed his mate’s examination in 1855. After gaining experience both on land and on the seas, he took up a position with Jeppesen, a leading ship owner in Dragør, just south of Copenhagen. Not only did he captain Mr Jeppesen’s ships, but he also became his son in law, when he married Anna in 1864. They had ten children together.


Arnold Peter Møller (1876-1965) and his father Captain Peter Mærsk Møller founded what would become A.P. Moller - Maersk in 1904. Before this, Arnold Peter Møller had worked in Denmark, England, Germany and Russia. Initially, the family business was mainly concerned with shipping but later diversified. Mr Møller founded Maersk Line in 1928 and acquired the company’s first five tankers that same year. He also oversaw the company’s expansion abroad, starting in the United States in 1919 and establishing offices in Japan, the UK, Thailand, Hong Kong, and Indonesia.


To enhance the company’s portfolio. In addition, Mr Møller established a series of other businesses in the shipbuilding, agriculture and retail sectors. In 1962, he was awarded a concession to explore for and extract raw materials from the Danish subsoil - an activity that eventually led to the formation of Maersk Oil that started an era to accelerate the growth of the A.P. Møller Group beyond expectation.


"Captain Peter Mærsk Møller took part in one of the most significant changes in shipping - the move from sail to steam in the late 1800s. Born in 1836, on the island of Rømo, Peter Møller was given the middle name Mærsk after his mother, Kirsten Pedersdatter Mærsk, whose family originated from West Slesvig."

The AP Møller foundation

Arnold Peter Møller secured his family’s continued ownership of the company that he built and secured by establishing a foundation that now controls most of the shares in A.P. Møller - Mærsk A/S. When Arnold Peter Møller passed away in 1965, his son Mærsk Mc-Kinney Møller assumed chairmanship of the family’s foundations.


Mærsk Mc-Kinney Møller (1913–2012) was a leader in the global shipping industry for more than half a century and played the most significant role in the growth and development of the A.P. Moller – Maersk Group, which is now one of the global leading shipping companies. His insistence on including oil exploration within their business portfolio cemented their position as a robust global player.


Danish merchant shipping is the seventh-largest globally in terms of tonnage and the fourth largest within the EU. This Danish maritime cluster, known as Blue Denmark, accounts for approximately 25% of all Danish export.

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