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Top 10 flag states 2017

As we prepare to publish the annual Lloyd's List Top 100 most influential people in shipping, on December 15, we showcase two big losers and one grand winner in the quest for world fleet control

01 / Fernando A. Solorzano, general director of merchant marine, Panama Maritime Authority

PANAMA has maintained its dominance as the world’s biggest registry and enjoys a degree of supremacy that is unparalleled in other shipping sectors.

However, Lloyd's List Intelligence data reveals this year has been among its worst, with the registry losing 5% of its gross tonnage.

While this might not be a massive blow, the registry needs to review what went wrong and prevent this decline from becoming a recurring theme.

Unimpeded rule does not last without effort and consistency, particularly when there are very noisy neighbours knocking at your door. 

Flag data at end of story.

Bill Gallagher president IRI Marshall Islands

02 / William R. (Bill) Gallagher, president, IRI - Marshall Islands

IT has been a milestone year in 2017 for the Marshall Islands registry; for the first time in its history, it completely surpassed the Liberian flag, overtaking it in both gross tonnes and deadweight tonnes.

The registry’s feet growth is partly attributed to share of bulkers, gas tankers and tankers, the two last having more Marshall Islands flags than they do Panamanian. Can it keep up the momentum and continue to close in on Panama and ultimately achieve the once unthinkable?



Scott Bergeron, chief executive of the Liberian International Ship  & Corporate Registry (Liscr)03 / Scott Bergeron, chief executive, Liberian International Ship & Corporate Registry

LIBERIA has been at the losing end of the Marshall Islands’ impressive rise. 2017’s result was almost inevitable, given the two registries’ differing growth rates over the past few years.

To be clear, Liberia is still a force to be reckoned with. It has the largest claim on unitised vessels and is the third biggest tanker stakeholder.

The challenge for Mr Bergeron in 2018 and beyond will be using the flag’s solid position in tankers and bulkers to spur accelerated growth rates and reclaim the second spot. That, however, will require picking up the pace considerably.



Director of maritime Maisie Cheng04 / Maisie Cheng, director, Marine Department, Hong Kong

SLOWLY but surely, Hong Kong has claimed that comfortable fourth spot, underpinned by a sizeable stake in the global bulker and unitised fleet, which places it as the third largest flag in both segments. 

The slight year-on-year decline it experienced in 2017 should not be a worrying sign, provided it is not an indication of a longer-term reduction, something that is not clear at the moment.



Andrew Tan MPA chief executive 05 / Andrew Tan, chief executive, Maritime and Port Authority of Singapore

SINGAPORE has had a similar fate to Hong Kong this year, losing a small part of its tonnage, also recording a slide for the first time in at least a decade.

The registry is well positioned in the bulker and tanker fleets. Singapore’s development as a maritime cluster could also theoretically benefit the flag as the time goes, by giving it greater exposure to and contact with owners, who might be considering leaving their registries.



Ivan Sammut, Registrar General of Shipping and Seamen, Merchant Shipping Directorate, Transport Malta06 / Ivan Sammut, registrar general of shipping and seamen, Merchant Shipping Directorate, Transport Malta

PATIENCE pays off. Malta’s flag has climbed the ladder over the past 10 years and has tripled its fleet in that period.

In 2017, it was the only middle player that managed to increase its gross tonnage, underpinned Singapore may still be ahead, but breaking into the top five is now a realistic target for Malta.



Denise  Lewis-Johnson, chairman, Bahamas Maritime Authority07 / Denise Lewis-Johnson, chairman, Bahamas Maritime Authority

A SLOW growth rate means the Bahamas registry has dropped from the third-biggest in 2007 to the sixth in 2017.

Nonetheless, and in spite of this year’s small decline, it maintains a degree of consistency, having the second-biggest share of gas tankers and an important stake in bulkers.


Ning Bo, deputy director, division of ship registry and supervision, Maritime Safety Administration, China08 / Ning Bo, deputy director, Division of Ship Registry and Supervision, China Maritime Safety Administration

CHINA’s heavy bulker presence has helped it move away from the top 10 relegation zone.

However, the flag has been oscillating around the same levels since 2013, laying bare a lack of sustainable growth that will have to be addressed if it is to meet China’s global aspirations as expressed elsewhere in the maritime sector.

A previous version of this article had Chinese MSA head Xu Ruqing as the representative of the Chinese flag. A change has been made to reflect that Ning Bo is directly responsible for the ship registry within the MSA.


09 / Agisilaos A. Anastasakos, director for shipping, Hellenic Coast Guard

PANAMA may have felt some pain in 2017, but arguably the year’s big loser is Greece, having suffered an almost 11% loss in gross tonnage, despite being the second largest flag in the passenger fleet. 

After remaining largely stagnant over the past decade, as its competitors grew at higher rates, the flag hemorrhaged in 2017 and is now lagging behind China, which it was ahead of until 2011, by some distance.

The Greek government needs to mull the potential changes it could undertake to keep the flag among the world’s leaders.



10 / Toru Shigetomi, director, Inspection and Measurement Division Maritime Bureau, Ministry of Land, Infrastructure, Transport and Tourism, Japan

JAPAN saw its maiden year in the top 10 flag states in 2017. The Pacific nation knocked the US out of the top 10 after years of rapid expansion in its gross tonnage, primarily spread out among many smaller vessels with solid presence in the passenger and bulker segments.

The challenge for Japan will be staying within the group and fending off the US, which is still close behind and no doubt looking to reclaim its position among the elite.


Open Media




The Top 10 flag states ranking is based on gross tonnage data supplied by Lloyd’s List Intelligence. All vessel types are included in the data.



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