Shipping is a truly global industry with owners based all over the world. Interestingly, ownership is also very fragmented with over 90,000 vessels owned by more than 24,000 shipowners, with an average of around four ships per owner. While there are a multitude of small owner companies, the relatively limited number of owners with very large fleets also exert a significant influence in today’s shipping markets.
The World At Large
The world fleet currently stands at 92,867 vessels of 1.25bn GT, owned by 24,090 companies. The ownership of the fleet can be analysed in numerous ways, including, interestingly, by company size (see graph for size definitions). Globally the most common company size is ‘very small’. There are 20,797 ‘very small’ owners, with a combined fleet of 32,781 vessels. However, these owners, which account for 86% of companies, only own 188m GT, 15% of the world’s tonnage. By contrast, ‘very large’ and ‘extra large’ owners account for just 1% of companies, but together own 362m GT, representing a more significant 29% of tonnage in the world fleet. This general trend holds true across the key owner regions, although some interesting differences are apparent when looking in detail.
Europe: Next Size Up?
European owners account for the largest share of the fleet in terms of tonnage. There are 7,048 European owners, who cumulatively own 30,155 vessels of 560m GT. Just 268 of these owners are ‘large’ or ‘very large’, but collectively they own 11,001 vessels of 279m GT, half of the region’s owned tonnage. Many of these companies are traditional shipowners with large, well-established fleets. The average German owner, for example, has around eight vessels in their fleet, compared to the global average of around four ships. Meanwhile, ‘extra large’ companies account for the smallest share of European tonnage, but it is still noteworthy that just eight owners account for 7% of the region’s tonnage, and 3% of the global fleet.
Asia: Slim Fit Or Supersize?
While the fleet owned by Asia/Pacific companies is slightly smaller than the European fleet in GT, the region accounts for a larger number of owners (11,632). This reflects the many ‘very small’ Asian companies, with the average Asia/Pacific company owning a fleet of around three vessels, lower than the global average. However, ‘extra large’ companies still play a major role. Half of the world’s ‘extra large’ owners are Asian, and just 12 companies control 17% of Asia/Pacific owned tonnage and 7% of the global fleet. Four of these companies are shipping arms of major Japanese conglomerates, and alone represent 12% of the Asia/Pacific owned fleet. Meanwhile, in other owner regions, ‘large’ owners account for the greatest share of the fleet (41%). However, ‘very large’ and ‘extra large’ owners have a much smaller presence than in Europe and Asia.
So, ownership in the shipping industry is extremely fragmented. In Europe, the fleet is dominated by the larger companies, but in Asia both the ‘very small’ and ‘extra large’ companies are key. Overall, whilst most companies globally own just a handful of vessels, the limited number of much larger owners clearly have a big overall influence too.