China has become the world's second-largest ship-owning nation

Based on a robust y-o-y fleet growth of 14.1 %, China has topped Japan for the first time and is now the second-largest ship-owning nation, controlling a fleet of more than 5,600 vessels, totalling a capacity of 270 million dwt.

In early 2019, Greece remains the largest owner country with a share of 20.4 % in terms of dwt, now followed by China (14.5 %) and Japan (13.0 %). Together these three countries control almost half of the world merchant fleet’s tonnage. At the company level, China COSCO Shipping is by far the largest shipping company in the world. The company was formed by a merger of the COSCO Group and the China Shipping Group in 2016 and controls a fleet of over 800 merchant vessels of a combined 74.5 million dwt.

While most owners have registered the majority of their fleet under foreign flags, China stands out as one of countries with a high share registered under national flag (particularly when including the Hong Kong register).

China has become the world's second-largest ship-owning nation © ISL

The most popular ‘flags of convenience’ are Panama, the Marshall Islands and Liberia. More than 40 % of the world fleet are registered under one of these flags. In 2019, the top 10 open registry flags’ total tonnage exceeded one billion dwt for the first time.