An icon for our article on the worldwide merchant fleet

2020 world merchant fleet

Based on the publicly available UNCTAD data, the world merchant fleet was composed of over 95,000 vessels in 2020.
The total deadweight* of this gigantic fleet was over 2,000,000 thousand tons – meaning that in 2020 the merchant fleet had the capacity to carry (all in : crew, cargo, fuel, ballast,….) over 2,000,000,000 tons at any one point in time.

Deadweight (dwt) is the actual amount of weight in tonnes that a vessel can carry when loaded to the maximum permissible draught (includes fuel, fresh water, gear supplies, catch and crew).

Source – UN FAO

This total is up by 4% compared to 2019 and up by a dramatic 160+% compared to the year 2000.

The 2020 world merchant fleet put in perspective - the dead weight capacity was equivalent to 6250 empire state buildings

To put this in perspective, this means that at any one point in time the 2020 merchant fleet would have the capacity to carry 6,250 Empire state buildings.

This capacity was made up at:
(you can find out more about the various cargo carried by these vessels here)

  • 43% by bulk carriers – cca. 11 000 vessels
  • 29% by oil tankers – cca. 12 000 vessels
  • 13% by container vessels – cca. 5 400 vessels
  • 4 % by general cargo and RORO vessels – cca. 19 000 vessels
  • and 11% of various other vessels such as LNG/LPG carriers, offshore supply vessels, tug boats, … – 50,000+ vessels!

This means that the bulk and oil carriers, whilst representing only 23% of the fleet in terms of vessel, represent over 70% of the deadweight capacity.

Visually, if we were to split the merchant fleet by liner and tramp service, it would look like this:

A graphic representing the various vessels of the world merchant fleet and their split by vessel type and service (liner versus tramp)
The 2020 merchant fleet by capacity, vessel type and service.

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