The Maritime Transport Life Cycle and Main National Actors

The Maritime Transport Life Cycle and Main National Actors

Source: Adapted from UNCTAD, Review of Maritime Transport, various issues. J. Hoffmann (2014) “Who controls the world’s fleet? Trends in the ship owning countries”, Marine Money Geneva Forum.

Maritime transport has several economic ramifications since it involves core and ancillary (support) activities. Such an association is often referred to as the ocean (or “blue”) economy. Maritime shipping is part of a life cycle that includes five major phases (a “blue chain”) involving different national actors.

  • 1. Building. Once a ship has been ordered, building in a specialized shipping yard can take 2 months or more depending on the ship class. Most of the shipbuilding is assumed by South Korea and China.
  • 2. Ownership. Ships are owned by corporations and often family interests that are incorporated in specific countries referred to as beneficial ownership locations. Greece, Japan, and China are among the world’s most important beneficial ownership locations.
  • 3. Registration. Due to maritime law, the country of registration of a ship relates to the rules and regulations it is subject to. These are known as flags of convenience, with Panama, Liberia and the Marshall Islands accounting for the most significant ship registry countries.
  • 4. Operations. Maritime transportation is operated by large shipping companies that offer transport services to their customers and organize the utilization of their assets along shipping routes. Denmark and Switzerland have the head offices of the world’s two largest shipping lines, Maersk and MSC.
  • 5. Scrapping. Once a ship has completed is commercial life, often after being sold to secondary shipping markets, it will be brought to a scrapping yard to be disassembled and recycled. India and Bangladesh are among the most significant locations where ships are scrapped. Ships are usually bought for cash on secondary markets by the scrapping yards.

Additionally, the maritime transport life cycle is supported by ancillary activities. For instance, shipping, such as building or operations, needs to be financed and insured. The UK and Scandinavian countries have developed a specialization in this sector. Maritime operations require seafarers, many of which are recruited from the Philippines and Indonesia. A share of the world’s port terminals is operated by global terminal operators with Hong Kong, the Netherlands, Singapore, and the United Arab Emirates accounting for the largest.