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China takes lead over Greece in fleet gross tonnage

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Greece’s decade-long lead as the largest shipowning nation, measured in gross tons (gt), has come to an end as China takes over pole position. The Mediterranean country is still ahead, however, in deadweight terms. The rankings have been released in the latest World Fleet Register from Clarksons Research.

As the largest cross-trading nation, Greek shipowners overtook Japan in 2013 and have held number one slot for the last decade. China overtook Japan in 2018, according to the Clarksons’ analysis.

The research outfit estimates the gross tonnage of China’s fleet today at 249.2 million gt compared with Greece’s 249 million gt. But the value of the Chinese fleet – estimated at $180 billion – is significantly more than the Greek fleet, at $163 billion.

The two leaders are followed by Japan at 181 million gt, South Korea – 66 million gt, and the US, also at 66 million gt. Over the last decade, Germany has slipped from fourth place to seventh.

However, the Chinese fleet does not match its trade figures. The country’s 15.9% market share in ship ownership is well below its trade strength, Clarksons said. China accounts for 22% of global imports and 33% of container exports.

Meanwhile, the Asian country’s shipbuilding and repair sector accounts for about 40% of the global total. And favourable financing arrangements – notably leasing – have propelled its orderbook to almost double that of Greece.

However, Greece plays ‘a pivotal role’ in global shipping, Clarkson said. The country’s owners hold ‘a remarkable share’ of 15.8% and lead in the tanker sector, 25%, and LNG – up from 3% in 2013 to 21% today.

Its owners are largely independent with large companies such as Angelicoussis, Dynacom, Cardiff, Navios, Star Bulk, Costamare, Apha, Thenamaris, Capital, Minerva, and Tsakos leading the charge.