Merchant fleet

Map 1. Building, ownership, registration and recycling of ships, 2020
(Main specialization)

Sources: UNCTADstat -—
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; Clarksons Research.

Note: Top three countries in each segment are shown in the default selection. Building and recycling are estimated deliveries and demolitions during 2020. Registration and ownership figures refer to the beginning of the year 2021.

World fleet development and composition

In January 2021, the world fleet reached a carrying capacity of 2.1 billion dwt, 63 million dwt more than the previous year. Over recent years, tonnage has increased considerably in all segments except general cargo carriers. Bulk carriers recorded an especially rapid increase. Between 2011 and 2021, their share in total carrying capacity rose from 39 to 43 per cent, whereas the share of oil tankers shrank from 31 to 29 per cent, and the share of general cargo from 6 to 4 per cent.

Shipbuilding and recycling

In 2020, global shipbuilding was concentrated in China, the Republic of Korea and Japan. These three economies accounted for 94 per cent of shipbuilding in terms of gross tonnage. In ship recycling, Bangladesh and India jointly accounted for 71 per cent and Pakistan for an additional 17 per cent.

Figure 1. World fleet by principal vessel type
(Millions of dead-weight tons)

Source: UNCTADstat -—
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; Clarksons Research.

Note: Commercial ships of 100 gt and above. Beginning-of-year figures.

Fleet ownership

Figure 2. Fleet market by region of beneficial ownership, 2021
(Millions of dead-weight tons)

Sources: UNCTADstat -—
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; Clarksons Research.

Note: Commercial ships of 1000 gt and above; beginning-of-year figures.

As of January 2021, the top five ship-owning economies combined accounted for 52 per cent of world fleet tonnage. Greece held a market share of 18 per cent, followed by China (12 per cent), Japan (11 per cent), Singapore (7 per cent), and Hong Kong SAR (5 per cent). Half of the world’s tonnage was owned by Asian companies. Owners from Europe accounted for 40 per cent and owners from Northern America for 6 per cent. Companies from Africa and from Latin America and the Caribbean had a share of just over one per cent; Oceania just below one.

Major flags of registration

Many commercial ships are registered under a flag that does not match the nationality of the vessel owner. For example, at the beginning of 2021, more than half of all ships owned by Japanese entities were registered in Panama; of the ships owned by Greek entities, 25 per cent were registered in Liberia and another 22 per cent in the Marshall Islands.

Panama (344 million dwt), Liberia (300 million dwt) and the Marshall Islands (274 million dwt) represented the leading flags of registration. Hong Kong SAR and Singapore followed in fourth and fifth place, respectively. Among these five, the Marshall Islands recorded the strongest increase in registrations over the last decade.

Figure 3. Vessels capacity in top 5 registries
(Millions of dead-weight tons)

Sources: UNCTADstat -—
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; Clarksons Research.

Note: Commercial ships of 100 gt and above. Beginning-of-year figures. Ranked by the values as of 1 January 2021.

Concepts and definitions

The unit dead-weight tons (dwt) is used to indicate the cargo carrying capacity of a ship, while gross tons (gt) reflect its size. The latter is relevant to measure shipbuilding and recycling activity, while the former is used to capture the capacity to transport cargo.

The presented statistics on fleet registration (the flag of a ship), shipbuilding and recycling cover all commercial ships of 100 gt and more. The market shares for ownership only cover larger ships of 1000 gt and above, as the true ownership is not always known for smaller vessels.

Summary tables

Table 1. Merchant fleet registration by group of economies

Sources: UNCTADstat -—
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; Clarksons Research.

Note: Commercial ships of 100 gt and above. Figures refer to the beginning of the year.

    Table 2. Fleet ownership and registration, main economies, 1 January 2021
    Vessels
    (Number of vessels)

    Sources: UNCTADstat -—
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    ; Clarksons Research.

    Note: Commercial ships of 1000 gt and above.

      Tonnage
      (Thousands of dead-weight tons)

      Sources: UNCTADstat -—
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      ; Clarksons Research.

      Note: Commercial ships of 1000 gt and above.

        References

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