German shipping company Hapag-Lloyd's merger talks with Chile's Vapores may herald further deals with other peers, its chief executive said, as the group strives to catch up with the industry's top three players. "The aim should be to create something bigger by merging several companies," Michael Behrendt told Reuters. "It is my goal that we can catch up with the top three. I may not be able to achieve this during my time, but perhaps make a step in that direction," he added. Hapag-Lloyd, the world's No.5 container shipping company by capacity, last week said it was in talks to merge with smaller Chilean shipper Compania Sud Americana de Vapores, adding that no agreement had yet been reached. Shipping groups have been struggling through the worst slump on record, with the weak global economy, oversupply of vessels and low freight rates highlighting the benefits of consolidation in the sector. It is not the first time Hapag-Lloyd, burdened by 2.35 billion euros ($3.22 billion) of net debt and a nine-month net loss of 56 million euros, has sought expansion through large mergers, though deals have proved elusive.