After it passed the 5,000 vessel barrier in 2011, the containership fleet has been stuck at around that number for some time now, according to Clarksons Research.
The containership fleet almost doubled from just 2,617 units seen at the start of the millennium to 5,192 units which it counts today. In 2017, only 8 vessels in net terms were added to the fleet.
Compared to the boxship fleet at the start of 2012, the fleet today is only 109 vessels larger, even though an overall total of 5.6 million TEU capacity has been added to the fleet over the same period. During that time, vessel numbers have grown by 2% whilst capacity has grown by 37%.
Even if the numbers have not grown much, the 5,000 ships still need to be fed with plenty of cargo. A global trade volume that totalled 67 million TEU back in 2000 hit 192 million TEU in 2017 and has grown quickly enough to allow the fleet to get that large.
The 5,083 ships at start 2012 moved 155 million TEU that year but then, in 2017, a figure of 5,159 ships moved a global volume 24% larger.
Capacity, if not the actual number of ships, has grown rapidly, and the constancy of ‘The 5,000’ is of course in part illusory. Within the fleet there have been major dynamics with bigger new ships (as large as 21,000 TEU) joining the fleet and older, smaller ships exiting.
There are 383 units (2.7 million TEU) on order and in the last two years 335 were recycled, so ship numbers might not change too much, even as capacity grows further, according to Clarksons.