China beats Greece to become the world’s largest shipowning nation by gross tonnage


For the first time in the modern era, China can now boast the world’s largest merchant fleet in gross tonnage (gt) terms,edging past Greece, according to data from Clarksons Research. Greece still retains an edge however when the rankings are measured by deadweight (dwt). Japan remains in third place on Clarksons’ shipowning podium.

After trading places during the 2000s, Greek shipping companies overtook their Japanese counterparts in 2013. Chinese owned tonnage overtook Japan in 2018 and has since been edging towards Greek levels. Clarksons’ latest ranking puts China on 249.2m gt ($180bn by value), Greece on 249m gt ($163bn). Then comes Japan (181m gt), South Korea (66m gt) and the US (66m gt). Germany, which lied fourth 10 years ago, is now in seventh position.

“China has been more active in the newbuild market (now almost double the Greek-owned orderbook) and more active in S&P,” Clarksons noted in its latest weekly report. It has the largest fleet share in bulkers (24%) and containers (16%) with state-run COSCO and China Merchants the two largest owners.

From around one-twentieth of the world total in the early 2000s,the China-owned merchant ship fleet now comprises more than one-seventh, following remarkable growth over two decades. During the past decade the capacity of the China-owned merchant ship fleet has more than doubled.

It is not just shipowning where China leads the world in shipping. Its shipbuilders have outmuscled South Korea into top spot, its port operators now have a massive global footprint while the People’s Republic has become a vital source of ship financing over the past decade.