The 17th richest person in Taiwan, Chang was known as a bit of a maverick in the ocean shipping industry, as well as a philanthropist and environmental advocate.
Y.F. Chang, the founder of Evergreen Group, died Wednesday at the age of 88, according to the Taiwan news agency CNA.
Chang Yung-fa started his company in 1968 with a single, used breakbulk ship and grew Evergreen into what in 1985 was the largest container carrier in the world. It was around that time Evergreen pioneered round-the-world container service, offering two strings, one eastbound and one westbound.
The company has since diversified into other industries as well — the Evergreen Group also encompasses EVA Air, the regional carrier UNI Air and the Evergreen International Corp. hotel chain — while remaining one of the world’s largest container carriers.
Alphaliner ranks it as number four on its list of the top 100 container carriers with 931,849 TEUs of capacity on 192 ships. (539,533 TEUs on 104 owned ships and 392,316 TEUs on 88 chartered ships.)
And the company currently has one of the largest orderbooks for containerships in the industry — 41 ships with 395,770 TEUs of capacity, equal to a whopping 42.5 percent of its existing capacity.
On Jan. 28 last year, Evergreen announced it had signed a time charter agreements with Shoei Kisen Kaisha, Ltd. to charter a total of eleven 18,000-TEU vessels. The company noted these would include six units of the same capacity it announced a month earlier.
The company’s decision to order such large ships came after Maersk, MSC, and United Arab Shipping Co. had placed orders for similar leviathans.
Chang had a reputation for successfully bucking the tide.
“Amid the 2007-order frenzy for ships of 10,000 TEU and above,” the London-based consultants Drewry wrote, Chang “memorably vetoed such a move saying that big ships would struggle with half loads when the global economy turns cold.”
“Instead, Evergreen avoided the stampede and waited until 2010 to order 20 x 8,450-TEU ships, followed by 15 more similar size ships the year after,” Drewry recalled. “It was only when the company moved away from its traditional independent status and forged closer ties with the CKYH carriers that it took the big-ship leap by ordering 10 x 13,800-TEU ships in July 2012 (one year after Maersk’s Triple E order), which it backed up over the next two years with orders for 5 x 14,000-TEU and 5 x 14,350-TEU vessels.”
Forbes estimated his wealth as $1.8 billion, number 1,054 on its global list of billionaires in 2015.
Today in an obituary, Forbes said Chang was the 17th richest person in Taiwan, and that he “entered the shipping business at age 14 when he worked in Miname Nippon Steamship’s office in the city of Keelung in northern Taiwan while he attended night classes in vocational school in Taipei.”
The company purchased the Italian shipping line Lloyd Triestino, renaming it Italia Marittima S.p.A on in 2006, and formed Hatsu Marine in the U.K. 2002.
News service Bloomberg said Chang spent 15 years as a sailor, rising to the rank of captain.
Bloomberg also noted, “Chang also was an advocate of closer economic relations between Taiwan and China. In 2008, Taiwanese and Chinese airlines including his group’s EVA Airways began regular flights across the Taiwan Strait after the lifting of a six-decade ban on direct transport links.”
Chang’s personal holdings as of Dec. 31 included 6 percent of publicly traded Evergreen Marine and 2.9 percent of EVA Airways, which is Taiwan’s largest airline by market value, according to Bloomberg.
Evergreen said that in recent years, Chang has devoted his efforts to charity and social welfare, primarily through the Chang Yung-Fa Foundation. He also worked to promote maritime education and seafarer training and the company has been a leader in building “green ships,” incorporating features such as advanced hull designs, alternative marine power (which allows the company to use shore-based power when docked), double skin hulls and internal fuel oil tanks, low sulfur fuel systems, airspace stern tubes to prevent leakage of lubricants, larger bilge tanks and oily water separators.
The company founded the Evergreen Maritime Museum in Taipei and the Evergreen Symphony Orchestra.