World seaborne trade up 3.8 percent in 2013

The following is the text of a news release from the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD):

(GENEVA) (Nov. 20) — Reflecting stumbling growth in the world economy, world seaborne shipments grew by an average of just 3.8 percent in 2013, taking total volumes to nearly 9.6 billion tons, UNCTAD's Review of Maritime Transport 20141 reports. Much of the expansion in seaborne trade was driven by growth in dry cargo flows, in particular bulk commodities, which grew by 5.6 percent, the report says. Meanwhile, world container port throughput increased by an estimated 5.6 percent to 651.1 million 20-foot equivalent units (TEUs) in 2013.

The new report also reveals that the size of the world fleet reached a total of 1.69 billion deadweight tonnage in January 2014, following 4.1 percent growth in 2013. Bulk carriers accounted for 42.9 percent of the total tonnage, followed by oil tankers (28.5 percent) and containerships (12.8 percent).

This rate of growth was lower than that observed during any of the previous 10 years, and the trend in early 2014 suggests an even lower growth rate for the current year, the report says. The slowdown reflects the downturn of the largest historical shipbuilding cycle, which peaked in 2012.

As for future vessel deliveries, during 2013, for the first time since the economic and financial crisis in 2008, the order book increased slightly for most vessel types, the report says. After the previous significant decline, it will take time for those resuming vessel orders to prompt the start of a new shipbuilding cycle.

The report calculates that the largest national fleets by flag of registration in 2014 are those of Panama, followed by Liberia, the Marshall Islands, Hong Kong (China) and Singapore. Together, these top five registries account for 56.5 percent of world tonnage.

Shipowners increasingly locate to third countries

The 2014 edition of the Review of Maritime Transport introduces a novel analysis regarding the ownership of the fleet, drawing a distinction between the concept of the “nationality of ultimate owner” and the “beneficial ownership location."

The latter reflects the location of the primary reference company, that is to say, the country location of the company that has the main commercial responsibility for the vessel, while the “ultimate owner’s nationality” states the nationality of the ship’s owner, independent of the location. Just as today most ships fly a flag from a different country than the owner’s nationality, the report notes that owners are increasingly locating their companies in third countries, adding a possible third dimension to the “nationality” of a ship.

Freight rates remain low and volatile

The report says that 2013 was marked by another gloomy and volatile maritime freight rates market: All shipping segments suffered substantially, with freight rates in dry bulk and tanker markets reaching a 10-year low in 2013 and similarly low levels in the liner market. Low performance of freight rates was mainly attributable to the poor world economic development, weak or hesitant demand and persistent supply overcapacity in the global shipping market.

In 2013, private equity investments continued to play a key role in the shipping industry, as traditional bank financing remained very limited.

World container port throughput increases

With world container port throughput increasing by an estimated 5.6 percent to 651.1 million TEUs in 2013, the share of port throughput for developing countries grew about 7.2 percent, higher than the 5.2 percent increase estimated for the previous year. Asian ports continue to dominate the league table for port throughput and terminal efficiency.

Despite this relatively weak growth compared with the trend before the economic crisis, the terminal operating sector is very active, the report says. Several global terminal operators have sold part of their stakes as they seek to streamline and focus their operations. Terminal operators closely linked to shipping lines have sold terminals, while traditional global terminal operators, such as DP World and Stevedoring Services of America, have attempted to strengthen their position by focusing upon investment.

Progress continues to be made regarding legal issues and recent regulatory developments in the field of transport

The Review of Maritime Transport 2014 reports that the Nairobi International Convention on the Removal of Wrecks, 2007, will enter into force in 2015. As regards regulatory developments relating to environmental and related issues, additional guidelines to support the implementation of a set of technical and operational measures to boost energy efficiency and reduce greenhouse gas emissions from international shipping has been adopted by the International Maritime Organization.

Regulations to reduce emissions of other toxic substances from burning fuel oil, as well as environmental and other provisions of the draft international code for ships operating in polar waters (Polar Code), continued to be negotiated. The report notes that continued progress has been made regarding the implementation of the existing framework and programs in the field of maritime and supply-chain security, as well as international measures to combat maritime piracy.


Maritime transport is the backbone of international trade and the global economy. Around 80 percent of global trade by volume and over 70 percent of global trade by value are carried by sea and are handled by ports worldwide. These shares are even higher in most developing countries.

The Review of Maritime Transport, an UNCTAD publication, has since 1968 provided coverage of key developments affecting international seaborne trade, shipping, the world fleet, ports, freight markets, and transport-related regulatory and legal frameworks. As in previous issues, the 2014 report contains critical analyses and unique data, including long-term data series on seaborne trade, fleet capacity, shipping services and port-handling activities.

To view the full report, click here.

By Professional Mariner Staff