Japan tops ship-owning nations with highest-valued fleet at US$206.3 billion

By Rebecca Galanopoulos-Jones, senior content analyst, Veson Nautical

Singapore has fifth highest-valued fleet at US$86 billion as LPG vessel values sparked an increase in sale and purchase activity.

VesselsValue unveils this year’s top 10 ship-owning nations, reviewing the total asset values for vessels by beneficial owner country. From Japan’s resolute leadership in the top position with a US$206.3 billion fleet to the emergence of Hong Kong at US$44.7 billion, asset values and ownership strategies have changed considerably over the last 12 months.

1. Japan

Japan continues to lead, taking number one spot owning the highest valued fleet and, holding a total of approximately US$206.3 billion in assets. This is an increase of c. 5% since the last report in November 2022. 

Significant investment has taken place in the Tanker sector with almost 100 vessels added to the fleet, increasing the total value by c.15.5%. In addition, values for this sector have continued to gain strength over almost all sub sectors and age categories over the last year. For example, 10-year-old Suezmaxes of 160,000 DWT have increased by c. 19.8% year on year from US$53.43 million to US$64.01 million.   

Out of the top ship-owning countries, Japan owns the highest value fleets for LNG and LPG vessels by both value at US$37.8 billion and US$13.4 billion respectively and by volume at 202 LNG vessels and 344 LPG. Japan also owns the largest and most valuable fleet for vehicle carriers with 334 vessels and a total value of US$22.9 billion.

2. China 

Once again, China maintains its top position by vessel ownership, boasting a total of 6,084 vessels and a current fleet value amounting to US$204 billion. China owns the largest Bulker fleet, both in terms of vessels and values. As a result of improved market fundamentals, earnings for Bulkers have been firm, particularly for the Capesizes. This has had a positive impact on values which have increased by c. 30.36% year-on-year for newly built vessels of 180,000 DWT which have increased from US$54.75 million to US$71.37 million, the highest levels since March 2010. 

China also owns the largest number of Tankers and Containers. The Tanker fleet consists of 1,576 vessels with a total value of US$47.4 billion and the Container fleet has 1,011 vessels, worth an impressive US$42.6 billion. Although the Container fleet has grown since the last time this report was put together, the value of the fleet has decreased by c. 23.8%. This comes as the market has slowed significantly from the highs of 2022 and this has had an impact on values that have fallen across many sectors. For example, values for 20-year-old Handy Container vessels of 1,750 TEU, have fallen by c. 20.1% year-on-year from US$8.55 million to US$6.76 million. 

3. Greece     

Greece has maintained its position as the third-ranked country by both total number of vessels in its fleet and overall value. While China owns more Tankers, the Greek Tanker fleet has the highest value at US$69.5 billion, surpassing China by US$22.1 billion.

Over the last two years, the ongoing Russian sanctions and the resulting surge in ton-mile demand has continued to bolster earnings for Tankers. In addition, the situation unfolding in the Red Sea is providing further support to earnings, at least in the short term. This has kept Tanker values hovering around the highest levels since 2010 for most sectors, for example values for 15-year-old Suezmaxes of 160,000 DWT are currently up c. 20.62% from the same period last year, from US$38.37 million to US$46.28 million. 

Greece is also the owner of the second largest LNG fleet, with 143 vessels and a fleet value of US$31.1 billion. The values in this sector have consistently remained at elevated levels since 2022, driven by a surge in demand. 

4. USA 

The USA has remained in fourth place with a total of US$99.9 billion, up over US$1 billion from our last report. 

Of the overall asset value, US$49 billion is represented by cruise ships, solidifying the USA’s position as the world’s largest cruise owner. This is to be expected, given that the two leading cruise companies, Carnival and Royal Caribbean, have their headquarters in the USA. Despite a decrease in the fleet value by a total of US$4.7 billion since the last report, the USA maintains its dominance in the cruise industry.

The USA is also a prominent owner in the RoRo sector, with the largest fleet in terms of value, worth US$2.5 billion. However, with 40 vessels, the USA ranks behind Japan, who own 84 vessels. 

5. Singapore 

Singapore has retained fifth place once again this year, with a fleet value of c. US$85.7 billion and fourth place in terms of the number of vessels owned. Singapore’s Container fleet is the third most valuable globally, worth US$22.1 billion, accounting for almost a quarter of the value of the entire fleet. 

Improvements in the LPG sector and stronger values have sparked an increase in sale and purchase activity for Singapore. The current valuation of the LPG fleet stands at US$9.3 billion, marking a substantial 57% increase from the last report. This surge elevates Singapore to the second position in terms of value within the LPG sector.

6. South Korea 

South Korea has retained its place in sixth position this year, and the value of its fleet now stands at US$67 billion, an increase of just over US$1 billion since the last report was completed. 

However, the country has moved out of the top 10 in terms of the number of vessels owned, overtaken by newcomers such as UAE, Russia and the Netherlands. 

South Korea’s investment in the LNG sector continues to pay off, with values for this sector remaining firm and at high levels. 

South Korea has maintained a pivotal role as a global car exporter and there has been considerable investment into the newbuilding sector. HMM placed an order of six LCTC vessels and an option for a further four more vessels to be built at Guangzhou CSSC and scheduled to be delivered between 2026-2028. 

7. Norway

Norway has moved up to seventh place, surpassing Germany, with a total fleet value of US$59.3 billion. This has mostly been driven by investment in the Gas sectors and the value of the Norwegian LNG fleet increased by c. 16.7% since the last report from US$12.2 billion to US$14.2 billion. The value of the LPG fleet increased by c. 55% from US$2.9 billion to US$4.5 billion, led by an increase in second-hand sales and newbuilding orders. 

Over the course of 2023, Norway added 10 LPG vessels to the global orderbook, including an en-bloc deal by Solvgang ASA who ordered five VLGC LPG vessels of 88,000 CBM from Hyundai Heavy Industries and scheduled for delivery in 2026-2027 and ranging in value from US$107.41 million to US$106.65 million.   

Norway is also the second largest owner of vehicle carriers. The current value of this fleet stands at US$9.2 billion, up from US$8.2 billion, an increase of c. 13% from the last report. 

8. United Kingdom

After a brief period in ninth position, the UK has now moved back up to eighth place with a value of US$53.8 billion. The Cruise sector is the most valuable to the UK, accounting for c. 25% followed by the Container sector with c. 15%, this share has decreased significantly, due to a cooling in market sentiment and therefore values. Due to strong gains in the Tanker sector, the value of the UK Tanker fleet has increased by c. 36.5% since our last report, moving up from US$5.2 billion in November 2022 to US$7.2 billion. 

There has also been notable investment in the LPG sector and the value of this fleet has moved up from a value of US$2.9 billion in our last report to US$5 billion today, an increase of c. 30%. 

9. Germany 

Germany has experienced a decline in its global rankings, dropping from seventh place to ninth place this year. A significant portion of its fleet has traditionally consisted of Containers, where Germany currently holds the second position in terms of the number of vessels. As earnings continue to undergo a correction following the boom of the early 2020s, values in this sector have also decreased. Consequently, the value of Germany’s fleet has fallen from US$32.1 billion in the last report to US$17.8 billion, representing a decrease of approximately 45%.

This year, Germany’s investment in the LNG fleet has increased in value by US$625 million, to stand at US$1 billion. 

10. Hong Kong, China

Hong Kong is a newcomer to the list with a total fleet value of US$44.7 billion. Notably, its significant investment in the Bulker sector has catapulted Hong Kong to the fifth position in the top 10 list. This sector alone contributes over a quarter of the total fleet value, approximately 29%, amounting to US$13 billion. This has been supported by strong Bulker values which have risen across all sub sectors for modern vessels, for example five-year-old Capesizes of 180,000 DWT have by 32.14% year on year from US$42.53 million to US$56.2 million. 

The data is valid as of February 2024. 

Top photo credit: iStock/7maru. Yokohama port.

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