The Latin American and Caribbean shipping fleet is tiny, but ship registries remain leaders

Panama and Bahamas keep the flag flying

The United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD) has published the 2021 edition of the Review of Maritime Transport (RMT). The report tracks global trade, shipping and ports annually since 1968.

Maritime South has published a summary of the document. But what about the highlights for the fleet of Latin America and the Caribbean (LAC) countries?

In fleet ownership terms, the LAC region performs poorly, with only 2.23% of the world vessel value in 2021. This is down from 2.52% in 2019 and 2.45% in 2020. The best-positioned country in the 2021 value-based rankings is Brazil, in 17th place. The country’s 2021 fleet is valued at $16.05 billion, or 1.63% of the world fleet value, down from 1.86% in 2019. The downward trend is caused both by a decrease in fleet size (measured in dwt) and value, as the majority of Brazilian vessels’ value comes from crisis-stricken offshore assets.

Although far below in the world rankings, other countries in the region with sizeable fleet values are Mexico ($1.58 billion, 0.16% of the global fleet) and Chile ($788 million, 0.07% of the global fleet).

Top 25 ship-owning economies, as of 1 January 2021 (millions of United States dollars).
Table credits: RMT 2021, UNCTAD, based on data from Clarksons Research

Although ship ownership in LAC countries is underwhelming, the region achieves far greater success in the ship registry sector. Two of the top 10 flags worldwide are located there. Panama is number one, with 7,980 vessels and 344 million dwt, representing 16.1% of global tonnage. Bahamas, although falling in the rankings over the years, is still the 8th flag, with 1,323 vessels, or 74 million dwt (3.5% of global tonnage).

When ranked by the value of the fleet, Panama retains the top position (13.65% of global value), while Bahamas more than doubles its relevance, reaching 4th place (7.8%). This is mainly due to the sophisticated cruise ships that are registered in the Caribbean country.

Leading flags of registration, ranked by value of total tonnage, 2021 (million US dollars) and principal vessel types.
Table credits: RMT 2021, UNCTAD, based on data from Clarksons Research

The UNCTAD report has also assigned carbon emissions to flag states for the first time. Although Panama is the leader, there is a clear downward trend. On the other hand, the Bahamas flag emissions have not changed much over the last 10 years. The sharp 2020 reduction over 2019 is due to the Covid-related cruise industry shutdown.

Carbon dioxide emissions by flag state, annual, 2011–2020, million tons.
Figure credits: RMT 2021, UNCTAD, based on data provided by Marine Benchmark

You can download the RMT 2021 full-text pdf version here.


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