The world merchant fleet

It's worth recalling that the world merchant fleet is made up of different types of vessels, which can be grouped into the following categories: general cargo ships, container ships, barge carriers, bulk carriers, oil tankers and chemical tankers.

container shipToday, sea freight is the main means of transporting raw materials (oil, coal, grain, etc.) over very long distances.

Today, sea freight accounts for 90% of international merchandise trade. At the end of March 2022, more than 57 000 merchant ships had been sailing around the world, over 50% of them carrying oil and related products.

The world's fleet of ships (March 2022)

Vessel typeNumber
Oil tankers2 206
Tanker ships9 809
Chemical carriers3 991
Bulk carriers12 766
LPG carriers1 532
LNG carriers685
Container ships5 606
Multipurpose freighters3 188
General cargo ships16 112
RoRo ships1 586
Total cargo ships57 481
Offshore vessels8 926
Services2 112
Tugs 21 288
Passenger ships8 938
Other non-cargo vessels4 259
Total45 523
Grand total103 004

Source: International Underwriting Association

Breakdown of the world merchant fleet by region (March 2022)

 Europe (1)Far East (2)Other
Container ships54%36%10%
Oil tankers42%26%32%
LPG LNG33%36%31%
Bulk containers32%53%15%

(1) Europe : EU, GB, Norway, Switzerland
(2) Far East : China, Japan, Korea, Taiwan, Hong Kong, Singapore

Breakdown of world merchant fleet by country/region (March 2022)

Other European countries20%
South Korea4%
Other countries in Asia/Oceania12%
United States4%
Other countries in the Americas3%
Other countries9%

Source: IUMI/Clarksons Research

World merchant fleet breakdown by country of registration (January 2021)

As shown in the table below, on 1 January 2021, there were 53 973 merchant ships over 1 000 ums (Universal Measurement System), carrying all types of cargo. This fleet is registered under more than 150 different flags. More than a million seafarers of all nationalities are employed in marine freight activities.

The merchant navy is the key to the global economy without which the trade of raw materials and finished products at reasonable cost from one continent to another would simply be impossible.

Countries of registration of the world merchant fleet (January 2021)

Figures in number of vessels

Shipowner countriesCountry of registrationTotal
SingaporeHong KongIndonesiaOthers
China6554 8871521036293587 31814 120
Greece46501 1011 055282024 7057 376
Japan2 06602522341695474 0296 811
Singapore28242421371 459134952 8435 196
Germany34058096741802 3953 197
Indonesia16279812 2322 3214 596
Norway48089132815042 0422 446
United States6709531883711 8132 339
Russia34011702101 7861 940
Hong Kong3242053695188631 7643 170
Total3 9914 9132 6882 1531 9422 1362 352NA51 191
Rest of the world6 6534 9333 9093 7322 5412 4402 398NA53 973

Situation in January 2021
Source: UNCTAD

Catastrophic risks in marine transport can be linked to the sea and its hazards (foreseeable or unforeseeable), to the condition of the vessels and the skills of the crew, to the dangerousness of the products transported, to wars and acts of maritime piracy.

The risks increase in straits, in certain canals and on the freeways of the sea, where numerous wrecks run aground, a source of collisions and accidents for other vessels. New risks are emerging with the transport of hazardous chemicals. This is why issues pertaining to liability, guarantees and risk coverage are particularly crucial.

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