RANKED: Top 10 Countries with the Largest Shipping Fleets

by Frank Holmes, CEO, U.S. Global Investors

There are a few different ways to measure the size of a shipping fleet. For this list, I chose to rank countries based not on the number of vessels in their fleets but on carrying capacity, as measured in deadweight tons (DWTs). This number tells you how much a ship can carry, not including its own weight.

All data comes from the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTD) and is as of January 2020.

Rank Country Total Deadweight Tons % of World
10. United States 57.2 million 2.79%

The United States ranks number 10 with a little over 57 million deadweight tons in carrying capacity, representing 2.79% of total world capacity. The largest U.S. shipping company is Honolulu, Hawaii-based Matson, which provides services to Alaska, Guam, Micronesia, the South Pacific, China and Japan.

U.S. shipping

Rank Country Total Deadweight Tons % of World
9. Bermuda 60.4 million 2.95%

The self-governing territory of Bermuda has the fewest national flag ships on this list: a mere 13. However, many foreign ship operators have chosen to register their vessels in Bermuda to take advantage of its favorable rules and regulations, bringing its total to 542, or more than 60 million DWTs.

Bermuda shipping port container

Rank Country Total Deadweight Tons % of World
8. Norway 63.9 million 3.12%

Norway has a long nautical history, thanks in large part to the Vikings, and today shipping still plays an important role in its economy along with fishing and oil and gas. With more than 2,000 vessels, the Scandinavian country controls over 3% of global carrying capacity.

norway shipping port container

Rank Country Total Deadweight Tons % of World
7. Korea 80.6 million 3.93%
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South Korea is the world’s biggest shipbuilding country, but like the other East Asian countries on this list, it has a massive global shipping footprint. Its largest carrier is HHM, formerly known as Hyundai Merchant Marine, which has the two largest container ships in the world: the HMM Algeciras and HMM Oslo.

south korea shipping port container

Rank Country Total Deadweight Tons % of World
6. Germany 89.4 million 4.37%

Exports are incredibly important to Germany, representing nearly half its economy, so it shouldn’t come as a surprise that it has one of the largest shipping fleets by deadweight tonnage. This might not be the case for long, however. Germany’s shipping industry has been running at a loss for years, resulting in the size of its fleet declining by almost half over the past decade.

germany shipping port container

Rank Country Total Deadweight Tons % of World
5. Hong Kong 101.0 million 4.93%

Hong Kong is one of the world’s busiest seaports, handling some 18 million twenty-foot equivalent units (TEUs) of cargo in 2020. It also has one of the world’s biggest shipping fleets, able to carry over 100 million deadweight tons, which amounts to close to 5% of global capacity.

hong kong shipping port container

Rank Country Total Deadweight Tons % of World
4. Singapore 137.3 million 6.70%

The Port of Singapore is the world’s largest bunkering, or refueling, port; last year it recorded marine fuel sales of approximately 50 million metric tons. The country’s fleet is just as impressive, with carrying capacity of over 137 million DWTs, or 6.7% of global capacity.

singapore shipping port container

Rank Country Total Deadweight Tons % of World
3. China 228.4 million 11.15%

China is a relatively nascent maritime superpower, its shipping industry seeing massive growth only after the country joined the World Trade Organization (WTO) in 2001. Today China has the world’s largest seaport, Shanghai, which handled a staggering 43.3 million TEUs in 2019 alone, and the world’s largest shipping company, COSCO (China Ocean Shipping Company). The country also builds a whopping 96% of the world’s shipping containers. Its enormous shipping fleet, at number three, commands over 11% of global carrying capacity.

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china shipping port container

Rank Country Total Deadweight Tons % of World
2. Japan 233.1 million 11.38%

Japan ranks number two in terms of total deadweight tonnage and as a percent of global carrying capacity. The Far East country is looking to disrupt the industry, saying it’s ready to start building zero-emission and artificial intelligence (AI)-driven autonomous ships. Its biggest carrier, Ocean Network Express (ONE), was founded in 2017 as a joint venture between shipping companies Nippon Yusen Kaisha, Mitsui O.S.K. Lines and K Line.

japan shipping port container

Rank Country Total Deadweight Tons % of World
1. Greece 364.0 million 17.77%

No other country in the world is so inextricably linked to maritime transportation and shipping as Greece is. It’s a centuries-old tradition, going back at least as far as Odysseus’ fateful voyage across the Mediterranean Sea. Greece is home to only around 10.5 million people and has a GDP of approximately $190 billion, and yet Greek shipowners control almost a fifth of total global carrying capacity. This month, the country’s biggest shipowner, billionaire John Angelicoussis, passed away at the age of 72. His firm, the Angelicoussis Shipping Group, is believed to be the largest private shipping empire in the world.

greece shipping port container

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