Archives for posts with tag: fleet

In the H.G. Wells novella The Time Machine, the main character describes how he has travelled thousands of years into the future, using a contraption controlled by two levers. While today’s shipowners can only dream of a machine that could take them through time to the top of the shipping cycle, they do have access to a range of supply-side ‘levers’, which clearly can be used in very different ways.

For the full version of this article, please go to Shipping Intelligence Network.

Heavyweights in the political arena are commonly referred to as the “Big Beasts”, but the world shipping fleet has plenty of massive animals of its own. Prominent amongst these are the very large containerships including today’s ‘mega-ships’ of over 20,000 TEU, and together the ships of over 8,000 TEU in size (the ‘big beast’ benchmark back in 2000) now account for the majority of boxship fleet capacity.

For the full version of this article, please go to Shipping Intelligence Network.

One of the great stories of the Bible’s New Testament centres on the feeding of a multitude of 5,000 with just five loaves and two small fish. Shipping also has a notable 5,000 to feed in the form of the containership fleet. In this case, the feat has not only been continually finding enough cargo for the fleet to carry but also generating more capacity across a similar number of ships as time has gone by.

For the full version of this article, please go to Shipping Intelligence Network.


“Look after the pennies and the pounds look after themselves” goes the saying, a mantra the shipping industry has a long taken to heart. In this week’s Analysis, we review trends in ship operating expenses (OPEX) that have taken the total cost base of the shipping industry through the $100 billion barrier for the very first time.

Watching The Pennies!

Of all global industries, perhaps few have had the extreme cost focus of shipping over the past 30 years. During the 1980s recession, any operating “fat” was largely removed with the growth of open registries and a drive to outsourcing. This helped shipping, alongside its near “perfect” competitive economic model, deliver exceptionally cheap and secure freight, in turn a key facilitator of globalisation.

Nice And Lean…

OPEX response since the financial crisis has been relatively modest. Our average OPEX index (using the ClarkSea “fleet” mix and information from Moore Stephens) shows just a 1% decrease in OPEX since the financial crisis to $6,451/day in 2016. By comparison, the ClarkSea Index dropped 71%, from $32,660/day in 2008 to $9,441/day in 2016 (a record low). In part, this modest, albeit painfully achieved, drop reflects upward pressures from an expanding fleet and items such as crew and ever- increasing regulation. However it also reflects the already lean nature of OPEX.

$100 Billion And Counting…

Our estimate for aggregate global OPEX for the world’s cargo fleet has now breached $100 billion for the first time, up from $98 billion last year and $83 billion in 2008. The largest constituent remains crew wages ($43 billion covering 1.4 million crew across the fleet). By comparison aggregate ship earnings for our cargo fleet fell from an eye watering $291 billion in 2008 to $123 billion in 2016!

Cutting The Fat…

One sector that has seen dramatic cost reduction has been offshore. Estimates vary, but 30% seems a reasonable rule of thumb for reductions in OPEX since 2014. While painful, this has been part of a process of making offshore more competitive against other energy sources (offshore contributes 28% of oil production, 31% of gas, and 16% of all energy) and one of the factors behind the increase in sanctioning of offshore projects.

Getting Smarter…

So shipping is one of the leanest industries around but is always under pressure to do more! It seems clear that squeezing cost in the traditional sense, offshore aside, will be pretty challenging — UK media reported on the docking of the 20,150 teu MOL Triumph, highlighting it was manned by only 20 crew! Getting smarter, collecting and using “big data” and technology and automation are all gaining traction. The industry’s fuel bill (accounted for outside of OPEX) is clearly a big target.

This will all require new technology, skills and perhaps new accounting approaches. Plenty of food for thought but it seems like just going on another severe diet won’t work this time. Have a nice day!


In many instances the shipping industry is all about growth, with trade volumes expanding along with the world economy and fleet capacity growing too. However, that’s not exclusively the case. Today, trade volumes in some commodities are stalling, and there are some parts of the fleet that are on the wane. What might a look at some of those shrinking sectors tell us?

Frozen Out?

There are a number of reasons that can drive fleets into decline. The first is technological substitution by another sector. The reefer fleet is a good example. Total reefer fleet capacity has been in decline since the mid-1990s as containerized transportation has encroached onto the territory once held by conventional reefers. In 2012 reefer capacity in cubic feet declined by 12%, and last year by 0.6%.


Upsizing is another driver that can cause capacity in certain sectors to decline. As larger vessels offer greater real (or perceived) economies of scale, smaller vessel sectors can get left behind. This has been most noticeable in the containership sector. The sub-1,000 TEU boxship sector, once home to the classic ‘feeders’, has been in decline in TEU capacity terms since 2009, with growth in the boxship sector as a whole focussed on much larger vessels.

All Change?

Another driver of decline in a fleet segment can be a specific development in infrastructure. The Panamax containership fleet is an example of this. Although there are 838 Panamaxes still on the water, Panamax fleet capacity, which once accounted for more than 30% of the containership fleet, has been in decline since 2013, and there are no units on order. The planned expansion of the Panama Canal has made the Panamaxes yesterday’s vessels, and when the new locks eventually open (currently slated for later this year) the prospects for decline look even more certain. 11 Panamaxes have been sold for recycling already in 2016.

Cycling Through?

Market cycles can also explain shrinking fleets, although in this case the trends may not necessarily be lasting. In the Ro-Ro sector, with markets softer, total lane metre capacity was in decline for most of 2010-14. When markets are weak there is often limited vessel replacement with earnings insufficient to tempt owners at prevailing newbuild prices. Eventually the cycle turns, and earnings improve, incentivising owners to order new tonnage leading to fleet growth once again.

What Goes Down, Must Go Up?

Happily, however, each of these drivers also explain fleet expansion, generally with other sectors benefiting from the same trends in technology, upsizing or infrastructure. World fleet growth has slowed but remains positive, although even here it’s worth noting the patterns; growth has been more focussed on tonnage than ship numbers. Nevertheless, the global fleet is a broad church, and not everything is growing all of the time. The interesting news, however, is that if there’s growth overall, and one part is in decline, then another part must be growing even more quickly! Have a nice day.


Expansion of the world fleet is today creating more “big” shipowners. Over the past decade membership of the “100 Club” – owner groups with 100 or more vessels – has more than doubled. As the fleet continues to grow, more members are expected to join the club, and there are plenty of incentives for them to do so.

Thinking Big…

The past decade has been a period of intense investment in the world fleet. Since the start of 2005, the number of vessels has grown by a third. However, the number of active ownership groups has grown much more slowly – by just 12% – leading to an increase in average fleet sizes, and a significant increase in the number of “big” ownership groups.

After several years of low vessel earnings, attention has focussed on the issue of consolidation in the shipping industry. For shipowners, bigger fleets provide opportunities to grow revenue, reduce unit costs and enhance client services. They can also offer greater access to a wider variety of financing sources, including capital markets. These can be attractive benefits for owners with big ideas.


Ship ownership as a whole has traditionally been fragmented. The current sea-going merchant fleet of 100GT and above stands at 89,335 vessels, which are owned by 22,708 different identified ownership groups – an average of less than 4 vessels per group. 85% of these companies own less than 5 vessels, with a further 12% responsible for between 5 and 19 ships, and 2% between 20 and 49. This leaves just 182 groups with more than 50 vessels, including an exclusive club of 50 with 100 or more.

The graph shows that over the past decade this “100 Club” has been by far the fastest growing category. Since the start of 2005, the number of ownership groups with 100 vessels or more has climbed from 20 to 50. In terms of tonnage, this section has now established itself as the biggest, with 26% of the total fleet. Just below it, the 50-99 category has grown by 80% over the same period, while the 20-49 and 5-19 size ranges have grown by 59% and 33% respectively. The slowest-growing category has been ownership groups with less than 5 vessels, which have grown by just 8%.

…and Better?

Some fleets have grown due to mergers and acquisitions, but for the most part companies have grown bigger as a result of investment in new ships. The “100 Club” fleet has the lowest average age of all the size categories, standing at 12.8 compared with 20.2 for the fleet as a whole. So, big owners also tend to be in a position to benefit from the advantages of more modern fleets, with more modern, possibly more fuel-efficient designs more likely to be favoured by charterers.

So, there are advantages to being one of the big boys, and not surprisingly more owners want to join the club. By the time today’s orderbook has been delivered, another 13 ownership groups will have crossed the 100-ship threshold, and as the fleet continues to grow it is likely that more will join them. Have a nice day.

SIW 1148