World Merchant Fleets

Taking a quick look at the world merchant fleets in action in the last few years, showcasing a steady 3.3% increase in deadweight tons (dwt) terms. World merchant fleets are classified as those that include ships of 10,000 gross tonnage (gt) or over. If you were to look at mid last year (2016), there were approximately over 42,000 merchant vessels in play with over a approximated total of 1.73 bn dwt.

Country of Control Based World Shipping Fleets

Since the start of the year 2004, the capacity of world merchant fleets has doubled and presently has registrations in 150 nations. However, a point to keep in mind is that the world shipping scene is mostly owned and registered with a limited amount of shipping countries. The following table courtesy of ISL, features the Controlled Fleets of Shipping Nations between 2013 to 2017 in million dwt.

As per the above figures, by mid 2016, 57% of the tonnage movement of the world was controlled by the likes of Greece (19.5 %), Japan (14.1 %), China (12.0 %), Germany (6.8 %) and South Korea (4.7 %)  as per the ISL organisation.

World Merchant Fleets Owning Economies

Presently, 1/5th of the world’s fleet capacity is controlled by Greece when looking at it in terms of dwt. Since the 2010s, Greece has steadfastly become the largest ship-owning nation in the world and has since grown by 80% to the likes of 337mn dwt by mid 2016 (as shown in the table above), with the likes of 4,500 merchant ships under its belt.


The top five world merchant fleets as per UNCTAD presently stand as follows.

Furthermore, UNCTAD states the following too;

Top 5 ship owners are Greece, Japan, China, Germany and Singapore. Together they have a market share of 49.5% of dwt.

Only one country from Latin America (Brazil) is among the top 35 ship owning countries, and none from Africa.

Top 5 flag registries are Panama, Liberia, Marshall Islands, China Hong Kong SAR and Singapore. Together they have a market share of 57.8%.

Developing countries flag more than 76% of the world fleet in dwt.

In terms of vessel types, bulk carriers account for 42.8% of dwt, followed by oil tankers (28.7%), Container ships (13.2%), other types (11.3%) and general cargo ships (4%).

Only three countries (Republic of Korea, China and Japan) constructed 91.8% of world tonnage (GT) in 2016. Republic of Korea had the largest share with 38.1%.

Four countries (India, Bangladesh, Pakistan and China) together accounted for 94.9% of ship scrapping in 2016 (GT).

The data confirms a continued trend of industry consolidation, where different countries specialize in different maritime sub-sectors and also confirms the growing participation of developing countries in many maritime sectors.