How Many Ships are there in the World?

I was recently asked; how many ships are there in the world?

Like about 90% of people in shipping I reached for the latest copy of Clarksons Shipping Intelligence Weekly (SIW) and rattled off the latest figure, which at 1st July 2012 is 58,900 ships (and a recommendation on how to buy a copy of SIW). This number refers to cargo carrying vessels, but the inquirer was looking a number for all ocean-going ships. Then I referred to the World Fleet Monitor (WFM), which covers everything else (except fishing boats, naval and so on). The figure in the latest WFM is 87,483 ships.

But the question got me thinking. What if I was an ordinary member of the public and wanted to know the answer. I would Google it. So I did and the results are quite interesting.

There were only two meaningful answers to variations of the question; how many ships? In someone had posted the reply “”about 55,000” in October 2008. The other answer appears on the International Chamber of Shipping website and is from around the same time and roughly the same number. Looking back though Clarkson Research’s SIW it becomes clear the uncredited source in both cases is very likely to be Clarksons Research. So a member of the public would find a four year old figure for the cargo carrying portion of the fleet.

What if I was a member of the public that knew some of the shipping organisations, such as the IMO, and searched the same question? With such a big website it is not surprising the IMO search throws up several answers. The IMO Maritime Knowledge Centre report quotes a figure of 104,304 ships. Be careful, this is not comparable to the CLarksons figures above as it includes fishing boats and other small craft. This figure dates from 2011 and comes from IHS Fairplay, which is the main supplier of shipping data to the IMO is .

So it seems that it is not easy for the general public to find up to date figures for such a frequently asked question.

Copyright; Craig Jallal. All Right Reserved.

About Craig Jallal
A shipping analyst whose feels the need to comment on the industry.

8 Responses to How Many Ships are there in the World?

  1. Phil Stalley says:

    Hi Craig

    I agree it is very difficult to get accurate statistics in this business. In my blog at “How big Is this business?” I wanted to know how many voyages are performed each year in the oil sector and it is almost impossible to find out. If you have any ideas please add your views.

    BTW Unctad do give a total figure of 103,392 vessels at page 193 but it is a hefty document to wade through! For your readers a copy can be found here –

    • Craig Jallal says:

      Hi Phil,
      You hit the nail on the head. Demand data in shipping is a problem! On Lloyd’s Shipping Economist we tracked port calls. Today you could start with actual oil tanker voyage data from IHS Fairplay or LLoyd’s List Intelligence to generate the tonne-mile demand on each route.

  2. Andrew Craig-Bennett says:

    Hello Craig, hello Phil!

    Small world!

    I have just been asked “How many engineer superintendents are there?” and, off the cuff, I replied “take the number of Convention ships and divide by four for a working guesstimate!” but that begs the question of how many cargo carrying ships on international voyages there are. I went with Craig’s “55,000” but was niggled by a figure of “33,000” from somewhere – quite possibly from when I was working on a database in the early 1990’s.

    Adding up ships by category gives a very different number…

    • Craig Jallal says:

      Hello Andrew,
      Long time, no see!
      As you know the figure depends on the lower size limit, and 33,000 sounds like the former Clarksons limit of 10,000 dwt. Clarksons go much lower now and the figure gets bigger. I think the original question “How many engineer superintendents are there?” is very interesting and I will explore this, too. If I come up with a reasonable number I will let you know.

      Hope all is well with you and feel free to give me a call.

      • Andrew Craig-Bennett says:

        Thanks very much, Craig – and I probably will give you a call!

        I think 10,000dwt is a reasonable cut off point for “ships in transoceanic trade” simply because the cost per ton mile rises a bit sharply as we go below that – after factoring in port costs and operating costs as well as fuel, transhipment becomes a better option!

  3. Chauvet says:

    good job.. my search for a very similar question led me here.. my question was more along the lines of how much water was displaced by all of the ships on the sea..

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