Changes in the composition of the world fleet are nothing new, and have been a recurring theme throughout the history of the shipping industry. The twenty-first century has been no exception. At the start of 2000 the world fleet totalled 788 million dwt, but today’s fleet and orderbook combined total more than 2.0 billion dwt, and alongside this expansion the make-up of the fleet has also continued to change.

Bulk Boom Bulge

Clarkson Research tracks the world fleet and orderbook of over 90,000 ships. The Graph of the Week shows the difference in each vessel sector’s share of the total fleet in terms of both vessel numbers and dwt capacity, comparing start 2000 to today’s fleet and orderbook combined. It comes as no surprise that the clearest gain in share belongs to the bulkcarrier sector. During the ordering boom of the mid-2000s bulkers were often the investors’ ship of choice, spurred on by ramped up earnings and dry bulk trade growth averaging 7% during the period 2003-07. On the basis of today’s fleet and orderbook, bulkers account for a 11% greater share of world fleet dwt than at start 2000, and a 4% larger share of fleet numbers.

The tanker fleet meanwhile has seen its share of the world fleet decline over the same period; the overall tanker fleet saw its share of dwt capacity fall by 8%. Although 317m dwt of tanker tonnage was ordered in the years 2003-08, activity in other sectors has seen the tanker tranche slim down. Crude oil trade growth this century has been limited to an average of 1% per annum, although more positive growth in oil products volumes (5% per annum on average) has driven requirement for product tankers, helping maintain the tanker share of vessel numbers.

Liner Alignment

On the liner side, the containership sector has seen a significant growth in its share of tonnage. Robust trade volume growth of an average of 8% per annum this century has ensured a requirement for rapid growth in capacity. However, that has not been the only factor. In capacity terms container tonnage has also benefitted over the period from the increasing containerization of general cargo trade. Whilst the containership share of global tonnage has increased from 8% to 13%, the shares constituted by general cargo ships, MPPs, ro-ros and reefers have all decreased in dwt and number terms.

What’s Next?

The world fleet product mix continues to evolve. The consensus view seems to be that the more rapid growth in requirement for more specialised tonnage will see the share accounted for by, for example, gas, container and offshore units expand. In the period shown here, the offshore sector, led by the numerically strong OSV fleet, has already increased its vessel number share by almost 3%.

However ‘wildcards’ also come into play(few foresaw boxships as large as 18,000 TEU back in 2000) and ordering patterns are determined by a range of factors not just demand fundamentals. If prices look attractive, shipping investors often turn back to the sectors in which they are comfortable, and the composition of the fleet doesn’t always evolve as it seems it logically should. So, for the latest trends, watch this space. Have a nice day.