The global fleet continued to grow in 2017 even as markets remained challenging, albeit at a slower rate than during most of the last decade. Whilst overall fleet growth reached 3.3% in tonnage terms, up slightly from the previous year, there was significant variation in how quickly shipowners’ fleets expanded across different sectors and countries.
Surveying The Sectors
After slowing in 2016, fleet growth increased marginally in 2017 to 3.3%, with the global fleet reaching 1,300m GT at the end of the year. This uptick was driven in part by 4.6% growth in the tanker sector in tonnage terms, despite an increase in tanker demolition activity to 6.2m GT. The gas carrier fleet also grew significantly in 2017, up 7.0% to 72.2m GT, with deliveries remaining firm following strong ordering in 2013-14. Containership fleet growth increased year-on-year, reaching 3.4% in GT terms in 2017, due primarily to a 40% decline in demolition volumes from record levels in 2016. Elsewhere, annual bulker fleet growth reached 2.9% in 2017, with bulker scrapping also down significantly year-on-year.
Owners Seeing Clearly?
Firm growth in the Greek owned fleet supported a 4.2% year-on-year increase in the volume of European-owned tonnage in 2017. This was slightly above the 3.8% rate of growth in the Asia/Pacific owned fleet, and European owners continued to account for the largest volume of tonnage of any region (582.5m GT, or 45% of the global total).
The Greek-owned fleet reached 216.1m GT at the end of the year, up by 6.3% year-on-year and accounting for 17% of the global fleet, in GT terms. This was supported by both deliveries and firm secondhand purchases, which reached a reported 12.0m GT, almost double the volume of buying activity of any other owner country. Japanese owners still held the second largest share of global tonnage (13% at the end of the year), but fleet growth remained slow, due in part to significant secondhand sales activity. In the five years to end 2017, the Japanese owned fleet grew by 4.1% in GT terms, compared to 34.8% growth in the Chinese owned fleet. In 2017, firm deliveries of 9.8m supported 8.8% growth in the Chinese owned fleet, which reached 152.9m GT at the end of the year.
Class And Flag In Focus
There was little change in 2017 to the shares of the global fleet classed by the major IACS member societies. DNV GL, NKK and ABS classed the largest fleets, representing a combined 57% of global tonnage as of the end of the year. Of these, the ABS classed fleet grew fastest in 2017, up 4.0% to reach 225.6m GT.
Meanwhile, the Marshall Islands became the second largest flag state globally in terms of tonnage flagged, with its fleet growing by 9.9% in 2017 to reach 147.5m GT at the end of the year. The Panamanian flagged fleet remained the largest globally at 219.1m GT, despite declining slightly by 1.9% during the year.
Looking Out To 2018
While fleet growth increased slightly in 2017 to 3.3%, it remained at a much lower level than in many recent years, with trends across sectors and owner countries varying significantly. Greek and Chinese owners continued to grow their fleets rapidly, in comparison to limited change in the Japanese owned fleet. With global fleet growth expected to slow further in the short-term, market watchers will be keeping an eye on whether these trends continue into 2018.