Top 10 flag states 2018
There are few surprises in the composition of the 10 biggest flag states for 2018. But only four registries managed to increase tonnage, as others lost 10% of their fleet. Could these shifts persist over the next few years to reshuffle the global flag state landscape?
Our Top 10 flag states list for 2018, ahead of our annual Top 100 most influential people in shipping series, shows Panama leads the pack. However, ambitious registries are picking up pace and narrowing the gap at the top by more than 20m gross tonnes in 2018
01 / Fernando A. Solorzano, general director of merchant marine, Panama Maritime Authority
PANAMA is, unsurprisingly, still the world’s biggest ship register by more than 80m tonnes.
However, it is not all smooth sailing for the flag state. Despite controlling the greatest and second-greatest share in the bulker and tanker markets, respectively, the registry lost almost 5% of its tonnage this year, with a 6% decline in bulkers.
The drop may appear to be innocuous, but followers Marshall Islands and Liberia have shown they are keen to jump on to new business and are covering some of the distance, which was once thought to be unfeasible.
While certainly not impossible, it will still be some time before Panama’s deposition even looks like a potential prospect.
02 / William R. (Bill) Gallagher, president, IRI — Marshall Islands
ON THE back of a successful 2017 and a thriving decade of growth, the Marshall Islands continued its apparently unimpeded ascension in 2018.
The flag fended off tight competition from Liberia to increase gross tonnage by around 8% and claim the second spot. It led the tanker and gas tanker segments and held the second place in the bulker fleet.
The registry’s rising popularity indicates it could become a serious challenger to Panama but still has significant ground to cover and has tight competition on its back.
03 / Scott Bergeron, chief executive, Liberian International Ship & Corporate Registry
IT MAY have been unable to keep up with the Marshall Islands, but Liberia certainly did not do too badly for itself in 2018, adding tonnage in a competitive market and further distancing itself from Hong Kong.
The LISCR enlarged its footprint in the bulker market and maintained the top spot in the unitised vessel fleet. It hopes a recent change to a domestic law will help it enhance ties with China, with whom it already works closely.
Whether it can accelerate growth rates in 2019 and reclaim second place on the global stage next year remains to be seen.
04/ Maisie Cheng, director, Marine Department, Hong Kong
HONG Kong’s fleet slightly dropped in 2018 and it lost further ground to Liberia. Yet the registry held on to the fourth place in the global stage without much danger as its close competitors did not fare much better either.
The flag claimed the third-greatest share in the bulker, general cargo and unitised vessel fleets. However, if its underwhelming 2018 continues over the next few years, Hong Kong risks falling behind and could become a permanent fixture in the second tier of the biggest flag states of the world.
05 / Andrew Tan, chief executive, Maritime and Port Authority of Singapore
IN YET another case of a large flag state underperforming, Singapore also lost some tonnage in 2018.
However, the decrease does not necessarily reflect some wider problem and the registry is among the biggest in the bulker, tanker and unitised vessel fleets. Indeed, Singapore has been one of those flags that has grown exponentially over the past decade.
Things could change next year. Chief executive Andrew Tan will be leaving the MPA at the end of 2018, completing a five-year term at the helm. He will be succeeded by Quah Ley Hoon.
06 / Ivan Sammut, registrar general of shipping and seamen, Merchant Shipping Directorate, Transport Malta
MALTA was the only mid-tier flag state in the top 10 that increased its tonnage this year, with strong gains in the bulker segment.
The flag has consistently expanded its reach over the past 10 years and its growth rates indicate that within a few years, it could potentially break into the top five — especially if its competitors keep recording stagnated rates.
Malta’s positive trajectory could also have a wider political dimension to it. As other flags from the bloc struggle to break into the leading pack, Malta gives the European Union a significant foothold in the global fleet.
07 / Denise Lewis-Johnson, chairman, Bahamas Maritime Authority
THE Bahamas have been a steady fixture in the top 10 flag states. Yet as others have grown faster and more aggressively, the country has slid down in the rankings, despite taking on more business over the years.
The registry’s tonnage declined in 2018 but it maintained a significant presence in tankers and had the second-highest share in gas tankers. Its global footprint is well established but it is now a question of how it can propel itself to the next level.
08 / Ning Bo, deputy director, Division of Ship Registry and Supervision, China Maritime Safety Administration
ASIDE from an intimidating shipowning presence, a global financing machine, ports and infrastructure projects, China has also built up an impressive flag with nearly half of its tonnage consisting of bulk carriers.
However, growth for the registry proved a more difficult task in 2018 than it did for other China-dominant sectors, as tonnage slightly decreased.
Despite its losses, China’s registry is, in some sense, more spread out than most of its competitor flag states. It has the highest number of vessels in the top 10 after Panama and Singapore.
09 / Agisilaos A. Anastasakos, director for shipping, Hellenic Coast Guard
THE single biggest shift in tonnage in either direction occurred in the Greek-flagged fleet, whose tonnage declined by more than 10% in 2018.
This considerable drop has been preceded by mostly steady tonnage volumes in previous years. Greece’s struggles reflect the country’s inability to produce more seafarers, whose presence could help increase tonnage by making the Greek flag — which requires at least some Greek crew on its ships — a more viable option for owners.
On a positive note, Greece controls the second-largest share of the passenger fleet and the fourth-largest in the tanker market, trailing only the Marshall Islands, Panama and Liberia.
10 / Toru Shigetomi, director, Inspection and Measurement Division Maritime Bureau, Ministry of Land, Infrastructure, Transport and Tourism, Japan
IT HAS not been all bad news for the smaller of the leading flag states this year. Japan waged on with its expansion and added more tonnage in 2018 to further distance itself from the US and Cyprus.
With a relatively large fleet, counting more vessels than the Bahamas and Greece, and the third-biggest share of passenger vessels, Japan looks to cement its place among the 10 biggest flag states.
Having more than one-third of its tonnage in the bulker fleet, Japan may seek to grow in other segments where it is not as active.
The Top 10 flag states ranking is based on gross tonnage data supplied by Lloyd’s List Intelligence. All vessel types above 500 gt are included in the data.