The largest ship owning countries are seafaring nations since ancient times.
With their boats and simple sailing tools, they were responsible for allowing communities to flourish by trading goods from one port to another.
As globalization sweeps around us, shipping remains the main driver for growth. Seafarers and shipowners play a big role in sustaining this progress.
Let’s discuss the biggest of them.
World’s Largest Ship Owning Countries in 2020
The rankings of the top 15 ship owning economies are based on their carrying capacity in deadweight tons (DWT).
Additionally, only ships of vessels 1,000 GT and above are included.
Some owners register their ships to other countries. In that case, they are counted on the shipowner’s address.
Countries with more vessels than others do not automatically translate to higher ranks.
Take the US for example.
It has 1,930 vessels but ranks lower compared to Hong Kong (1,690 vessels), Republic of Korea (1,615 ships) and Bermuda with its 542 ships.
We will find out why below.
Starting from top 15, here the rankings of the ownership of world fleet.
In 2020, Belgium has 301 vessels with a combined tonnage of 30,698,214 dwt. That number is enough to earn them at the top 15 of the world’s fleet ownership.
In fact, Belgium has been steadily climbing up the ranks. In 2015, they were at the top 19 with its 243 vessels.
2016 and 2017 earned them at top 17 but slipped to rank 18 in 2018.
In 2019, they reached the top 15 which continue in 2020.
A huge share of Denmark’s ships are registered abroad. In fact, only 25 of their 946 vessels are flying their national flag!
Over the past five years, Danish ship owners haven’t breached 1,000 ships. That’s one reason they are either on the top 14 or 13.
However, their container ship segment is valued at USD 10.642 billion.
Container giant Maersk Shipping, the largest shipping company in the world link, resides here.
With a land area of 2.02 km2 (the smallest in the list), this tiny country interestingly caught the 13th place of the world’s fleet ownership.
Its overall carrying capacity of 43,831,888 dwt keeps them in this position.
Monaco is a Mediterranean country near France and Italy. Their total ships of 473 are all registered under foreign flag.
Ship owners from this country like it big. By doing a simple math, their vessels average 92,668 dwt.
This country is also the opposite of Indonesia (rank 19) in which more than 93% of its 2,208 vessels are registered in their country.
The first entrant from Asia, specifically Southeast Asia, Taiwan holds the 12th place this year.
They have 990 ships with a combined tonnage of 50,891,280 dwt.
During the height of the pandemic, this country provided a $568 million loan to its huge container companies Evergreen and Yang Ming Marine Transport Corporation.
11. United Kingdom
UK never regained their 9th place as the world’s largest ship-owning nation way back 2015 and 2016.
However, they do own the 8th place this year for the biggest ship-owning economies in the world even with the Brexit still on going.
They rank top 2 in the world for roll-on roll-off ship arrivals.
Their offshore vessels are its most valuable sector.
10. United States
For many years, the United States stayed at the top 8 of vessel ownership in terms of deadweight tons.
But this year is different. It slipped to rank 10 from rank 9 in 2019.
A quick observation revealed that though their fleet numbers remained almost steady, its overall tonnage dramatically decreased.
But in terms of vessel value, their Ferries and Passenger ship economies amounts to USD 52,130,000,00 or 43% of the world’s total.
Slowly climbing its way to the top, this small country of 71,176 people (2018) cemented its spot on the 9th place.
Bermuda owns a total of 542 ships while the top 10 countries are at thousands.
However, these ships has an average tonnage of 111,000 dwt, 99.46% of which are registered under foreign flag.
Norway’s fleet has been steadily growing as well with most of them are registered abroad.
Its offshore vessels are the most valuable in the world which tops US$ 23 billion followed by the US at US$20 billion.
As number eight in the rank, Norwegian shipowners are offering maritime scholarships to deserving Filipino college students.
This ensures continuous supply of officers for their growing fleet.
7. Republic of Korea
Over the past 5 years, South Korea maintained its 7th place in the rankings of the world’s fleet.
The number of their ships did not also change much, ranging between 1,615 to 1,658 over the same period.
South Korea’s rank is hard to catch up.
Norway’s total carrying capacity in 2020 tops at 63,935,810 dwt. Republic of Korea, on the other hand, is at 80,582,635 dwt.
Another interesting fact is that South Korea is responsible for almost 60% of the world’s oil tanker deliveries and new buildings.
While other countries diligently increase their ship owning capacity, Germany seemed to do the opposite.
Their 3,532 ships in 2015 is now at 2,504- a 29% drop in just five years.
This puts their carrying capacity from 122,035,632 dwt in 2015 to just 89,403,077 dwt in 2020. Moreover, they slipped from the fourth place to the sixth in the same period.
However, Germany has the second most valuable container ships which stood at US$17.2 billion, second to China.
5. Hong Kong
Breaching the 100K deadweight tonnage capacity is Hong Kong which stands at 100,957,393 dwt.
This fifth placer only has 1,690 ships which is much less than Germany, Norway and the United States. But here, size does matters which is why their ships averages 59,738 dwt.
Another interesting to add is that ships registered to its own national flag (883 vs. 807) has 2.5 times more carrying capacity than those listed abroad.
For two years in a row, Singapore has dethroned Germany as the fourth largest ship owning nation.
This densely populated country manage to slowly increase their ship owning capacity for the previous years.
Their 2,861 ships is also the fourth in the world when it comes to number of vessels.
Though a fairly small country, this country is the busiest cargo seaport in the world.
They also have a sizeable presence of bulk carriers and oil tankers.
We all know that when it comes to the biggest, largest, most numerous and anything with regards to economies, China rings a bell.
Over the years, their aggressive building and owning of ships contributed to their 3rd place.
Its total carrying capacity is slowly catching up with Japan. Last 2019, China has around 206 million dwt and Japan has 225 million dwt.
This year, the gap is much closer which is around 5 million dwt.
Their greatest asset comes from bulk carriers followed by container ships, oil tankers and off shore vessels.
For many years, Japan has been respectively at the 2nd place in the world’s fleet.
Companies like Mitsui, NYK Line nd “K” Line are big names from this country.
More than 76% of their 3,910 vessels are registered abroad which has always been for many years already.
This country has a major presence in bulk carriers and container shipping. Its market share for gas carriers and chemical tankers are the biggest in the world which stands at USD 15.173 billion and USD 4.937 billion respectively.
However, China is slowly catching them up. Their ship owning capacity over the years are lagging and there hasn’t been much substantial growth.
Greece is a leader in shipping. Its total carrying capacity stands at 363,854,232 dwt which is a huge lead against Japan.
This year, they own 17.77% of the world’s fleet tonnage and has been doing so for so many months.
Of all the ship-owning economies, Greece comes at number 1 with a value of US$96 billion.
There are about 52,000 vessels of more than 1,000 gross tonnage sailing in the seven seas right now.
With a combined capacity of 2,000,000,000 dwt, there’s no mistaking that the shipping industry plays a major role in globalization.
Around 80% of cargoes transported around the world is carried at sea. Even with the pandemic affecting seafarers and everyone, shipping continue to deliver goods into our communities.
And they continue to pay salaries to our sailors worldwide.
May the winds be in your favor.