China is now the largest container ship-owning nation

The German Shipowners’ Association (VDR) President Alfred Hartmann has said that China has surpassed Germany as the largest container ship-owning country.

Ship databases corroborate Hartmann’s observation, with Chinese companies listed as owners of a combined 3.63 million TEU, compared with 2.81 million TEU attributed to German owners.

Hartmann said, “The fact that China would overtake us in this respect was quite foreseeable: for one thing, the simple reason is that very much larger container ships are being built today; for another, this was to be expected in the wake of the long crisis after 2009.”

Chinese state-owned operator COSCO Shipping Lines, which also owns a majority stake in Orient Overseas Container Line (OOCL), has been expanding its fleet by building mega container ships at its shipbuilding affiliates, including five 23,000TEU vessels ordered by OOCL announced on 11 March.

Another reason for Chinese dominance is that while Germans were the main tonnage providers to container liner operators, the global financial crisis and European banks’ consequent reduction of their shipping portfolio gave opportunities to Chinese finance lessors.

The lessors, such as ICBC Financial Leasing, Minsheng Financial Leasing and Bank of Communications Financial Leasing among others, which are themselves subsidiaries of Chinese banks and shipbuilders, offering newbuilding funds or the purchase and leaseback of vessels. In May 2019, Maersk ordered five 2,500TEU ships from Jiangnan Shipyard, through a leasing agreement with ICBC Financial Leasing.

VDR CEO Ralf Nagel said in the same press statement that to maintain German owners’ competitiveness, the authorities must maintain the existing tax relief for German owners.

“To be able to survive in the prevailing intense global competition, the shipping industry must be able to operate competitively from the location of Germany on an international scale,” said Nagel. “We’re not interested in privileges, but simply in equal opportunities,” he added.