UNCTAD Report on Maritime Transport

The 2015 Review of Maritime Transport, published by the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD), underscored the role of maritime transport in helping implement a workable international sustainable development agenda.

The Review is the main United Nations publication on seaborne trade, the world’s fleet, freight costs, port traffic, maritime connectivity and the relevant legal and regulatory framework.

It is of particular relevance to developing countries, whose trade volume is estimated to be 90 per cent seaborne.

According to the Review, due to the slow recovery of world economy led by uneven growth in developed economies and a slowdown in developing countries and economies in transition has led to the sluggish pace of growth rate in the shipping industry.

At the beginning of the year, the fleet totalled 89,464 vessels, with overall 1.75 billion in deadweight tonnage. However, the newer tonnage cannot be compensated for the natural aging of the fleet, as there is less delivery of newbuilding and reduction in scrapping activity.

The report also revealed that developing countries, especially in Africa and Oceania, pay 40 to 70 per cent more on average for the international transport of their imports than developed countries.

This is mainly due to regional trade imbalances, pending port and trade facilitation reforms, as well as lower trade volumes and shipping connectivity.

Further, the report also states that the developing economies’ share of world container port throughput increased marginally to approximately 71.9 per cent. This continues the trend of a gradual rise in developing countries’ share of world container throughput.

The report also announced that the Polar Code, adopted by the International Maritime Organization (IMO) will come into effect on 1 January 2017. According to the Code, mandatory provisions must be established to ensure ship safety and prevent environmental pollution in both Arctic and Antarctic waters.

The report further stated that several regulatory measures were adopted at IMO, including strengthening legal framework relating to ship-source pollution and reduction of greenhouse gases (GHG) from international shipping.

Lastly, guidelines for the development of the Inventory of Hazardous Materials required under the 2010 International Convention on Liability and Compensation for Damage in Connection with the Carriage of Hazardous and Noxious Substances by Sea were also adopted.


The world’s commercial fleet grew by 3.5 per cent during the 12 months to 1 January 2015, the lowest annual growth rate in over a decade. At the beginning of the year, the fleet totalled 89,464 vessels, with overall 1.75 million in deadweight tonnage.

Despite its economic troubles, Greece remained the leading ship-owning country, with Greek companies accounting for more than 16 per cent of the world industry, followed by companies from Japan, China, Germany and Singapore. Together, the top five ship-owning countries control more than half of the world deadweight tonnage. Five of the top 10 ship-owning countries are from Asia, four from Europe and one – the United States of America – from continental America.

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Over the last decade, China, Hong Kong (China), the Republic of Korea and Singapore have moved up in the ranking of largest ship-owning countries, while Germany, Norway and the United States have a lower market share today than in 2005. In South America, the largest ship-owning country (in deadweight tonnage) continues to be Brazil, followed by Mexico, Chile and Argentina. The African country with the largest fleet ownership is Angola, followed by Nigeria and Egypt.

China ranked highest on the UNCTAD Liner Shipping Connectivity Index, which provides an indicator of a coastal country’s access to the global liner shipping network (the network of regular maritime transport services for containerized cargo). China was followed by Singapore, Hong Kong (China), the Republic of Korea, Malaysia and Germany.

The best-connected countries in Africa are Morocco, Egypt and South Africa, reflecting their positions at the corners of the continent. In Latin America, Panama ranks highest on the Liner Shipping Connectivity Index, benefiting from the Panama Canal and from being at the crossroads of main East–West and North–South routes, followed by Mexico, Colombia and Brazil. The 10 economies that rank lowest on the Index are all island States, reflecting their low-trade volumes and remoteness.

At the beginning of 2015, the report reveals, the top 10 liner shipping companies operated more than 61 per cent of the global container fleet, and the top 20 controlled 83 per cent of all container-carrying capacity. Together, the three largest companies have a share of almost 35 per cent of the world total.

The average vessel size for all new vessels on order by the top 15 companies is above 10,000 twenty-foot equivalent units, which is double the current average size of vessels in the existing fleet of each company. Only very few companies outside the top 20 carriers have placed any new orders and these orders are for far smaller vessel sizes.

Rates of tonnage added to the global fleet continued to decline in absolute terms compared to previous years. The report notes, however, that the overall growth rate of tonnage remained above indicators such as that of global gross domestic product and trade growth, and slightly higher than that of the growth of seaborne trade (3.4 per cent in 2014).

In addition, the report reveals that, for the first time since the peak of the shipbuilding cycle, the average age of the world fleet increased slightly in 2014. The delivery of fewer new ships, combined with reduced scrapping activity, means that newer tonnage no longer compensates for the natural aging of the fleet.

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The share of global goods loaded at developing country seaports was estimated at 60 per cent in 2014, while the import demand of developing countries, as measured by the volume of goods unloaded at their seaports, reached 61 per cent, UNCTAD data show. This means that for the first time in recorded history, the developing country share in the volume of imports slightly exceeded their share in exports.

Developing countries’ share of global imports, measured by volume of unloaded goods grew, by 3 1/2 times, to reach 61 per cent in 2014 from just 18 per cent in 1970, UNCTAD data show (see figure). Asia continued to dominate as the main loading and unloading region in 2014, followed by continental America, Europe, Oceania and Africa.

According to UNCTAD, global seaborne shipments increased by an estimated 3.4 per cent in 2014. This represents an additional volume of more than 300 million tons, taking the total volume to 9.84 billion tons.

Dry bulk commodities, namely iron ore, coal, grain, bauxite and alumina, phosphate rock and minor bulk commodities accounted for nearly half of the total 52,572 estimated billion ton–miles performed in 2014. The ton–miles of dry bulks expanded firmly, at 6.4 per cent for major dry bulk commodities and 5.2 per cent for minor bulk commodities.

With crude oil volumes estimated to have contracted in 2014, the associated ton–miles remained flat, indicating growth in distances travelled. The average haul of crude oil trade to Asia was estimated at over 5,000 miles in 2014 – 9 per cent greater than 2005 levels.


In 2014, important regulatory developments in the field of transport and trade facilitation included the adoption of the International Code for Ships Operating in Polar Waters (Polar Code), expected to enter into force on 1 January 2017, as well as a range of regulatory developments relating to maritime and supply chain security and environmental issues‎.

To further strengthen the legal framework relating to ship-source ‎air pollution and the reduction of GHG emissions from international shipping, several ‎regulatory measures were adopted at the International Maritime Organization (IMO), and the Third IMO Greenhouse Gas Study 2014 was finalized.

Also, guidelines for the development of the Inventory of Hazardous Materials required under ‎the ‎2010 International Convention on Liability and Compensation for Damage in Connection with the Carriage of Hazardous and Noxious Substances by Sea – not yet in force, however – were adopted, and further progress was ‎made with respect to technical matters related to ballast water management, ship recycling, and measures helping to prevent and combat pollution of the sea from oil and other harmful substances.

Continued enhancements were made to regulatory measures in the field of maritime and supply chain security and their implementation, including the issuance of a new version of the World Customs Organization Framework of Standards to Secure and Facilitate Global Trade in June 2015, which includes ‎a new pillar 3: “Customs-to-other Government and inter-government agencies”. ‎