Newbuildings for the Chinese fleet

After growing briskly last year, the China-owned fleet of merchant ships – bulk carriers, tankers, container ships, gas carriers and other types – is set to receive a further boost in 2024 from substantial deliveries of newbuilding vessels. Continued fleet growth is implied.

In 2023, the China-owned fleet expanded by 6.4%, compared with a 6.1% increase during the previous year. The capacity at the end of last year totalled 257 million gross tonnes, over 15m gt above the 242m gt total at the end of the previous year, based on Clarksons Research data.

This year’s deliveries

At the beginning of this year, newbuildings scheduled to be delivered into the China-owned fleet during 2024 totalled just over 14m gt. The total implies potential fleet expansion of more than 5% in 2024 as a whole, although actual expansion may differ for several reasons.

Among these reasons, deliveries may differ from the scheduled figure. Also, fleet growth will reflect influential other elements including scrapping, and secondhand purchases and sales. These changes could greatly modify the impact of newbuildings on fleet capacity.

But a more detailed look at segments where there is a concentration of newbuilding orders placed by owners in China is revealing. It points to substantial growth of carrying capacity at least in those categories.

Orderbook highlights

Calculations by Bulk Shipping Analysis, derived from the Clarksons Research lists of shipyard orders (as at 1 January 2024), show numerous vessels on order in the larger size categories of some segments. Liquefied natural gas carriers and ultra-large container ships are particularly prominent.

Owners in China had 42 container ships in the 16,000-24,999 teu (twenty foot equivalent unit) size range on order, of which 18 are in the largest size sub-group of 24,000 teu or over. Within this entire size range, 17 are scheduled for 2024 delivery, including 6 of the largest.

LNG carrier orders for the standard 174-174,999 cubic metres size totalled 40, including just 2 scheduled deliveries this year. In 2025 a further 10 are scheduled, followed by 28 in 2026 and later. The elongated order book for later years’ deliveries apparently reflects involvement by owners in China in LNG projects with forward starting dates. Liquefied petroleum gas carriers of 90-99,000 cbm on order, within the largest size category, total 31 ships including 20 for delivery from 2026 onwards.

Among other significant elements, a number of large bulk carriers are on order. These include 6 of 325,000 deadweight tonnes (often previously referred to as ‘Guaibamax’) for delivery from 2026 onwards, and 2 newcastlemax 210,000 dwt bulk carriers due for delivery within the next two years.

Another category is comprised of a limited number of large tankers. Very large crude carriers in the 200,000 and over dwt group comprise 3 for delivery in 2025, accompanied by 1 suezmax (125-200,000 dwt) for delivery this year.

Other features

Contrasting with the limited recent activity in the large bulk carrier market, owners in China have a huge number of ultramax and kamsarmax bulkers on order. As identified as at 1 January this year, there were 62 ultramax (60-64,999 dwt) vessels on order including 45 scheduled for 2024 delivery. In the 70-89,999 kamsarmax size group, 127 orders included 58 deliveries this year and 47 next year.   

An additional feature emerging fairly recently has been activity in the car carrier newbuilding market. Calculations suggest that at the beginning of this year 46 were on order for owners in China, comprising 32 of 7-9,000 ceu (car equivalent unit) and 14 of 9,000 ceu and over. Deliveries of these are scheduled as 8 in 2024, 25 in 2025 and 13 in 2026 and later. Greater involvement of Chinese car manufacturers in exports, and expectations of growth in foreign sales of electric vehicles, is reflected in these newbuilding orders.

One other notable element is the number of 62,000 dwt multi-purpose ships on order. A total of 25 is comprised of 4 in 2024, 16 in 2025, and 5 due for completion in 2026 and later.

The above orders demonstrate how prospects for activity in various shipping segments are viewed by owners in China. It seems clear that opportunities for fleet renewal and expansion for participation in international trades are being tackled vigorously.

Please contact the author if you have any questions or comments, at: [email protected]

Any opinions expressed by contributors do not necessarily reflect the views of the Chinese Shipping Association of London. Content provided are for informational purposes only.

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