Container Ship Fleet Data
The use of containerized transportation has grown exponentially over the past 60 years. Similarly, the size and quantity of container ships have grown over the past decade in response to greater economies of scale and overall operational efficiency. The data below show the global container vessel fleet according to the number of ships as well as overall capacity. Also, at the bottom of the page, the capacity range of the individual vessel types is broken down in twenty-foot equivalent units (TEU).
Between 2012 and 2015, the capacity of the global container vessel fleet grew 21 percent. This time period marshaled in the mega-ship age where bigger ships equaled more containers moved per voyage, increasing economies of scale and reducing the number of ships serving some trade lanes. The mega-ship age brought a variety of new ships in both capacity and size. Traditional vessel types were re-categorized in 2014 and again in 2017 to keep up with changes in the market.
The increase in vessel sizes and categories over time is shown in the graphic below. The data show sharp increases in overall vessel capacity, particularly for small neo-panamax, and the very large and ultra large container vessel categories.
Ocean container carriers adjust the number of vessels operating in the fleet throughout the year. If demand is low, carriers will idle a portion of the fleet to adjust capacity to meet demand. The graphic below demonstrates the volatility of the market on a monthly basis. It also demonstrates the extreme conditions experienced during the peak of quarantine in 2020.
Fleet Capacity and Freight Rates
This graphic compares annual global container vessel fleet capacity with average annual spot rates from Los Angeles to Shanghai, China.
Ocean carriers responded to relatively strong rates and forecasts of recovery from the 2008/09 recession by building larger ships, increasing global TEU capacity. Fleet capacity grew by 9 percent in 2015 alone. Since then, rates have increased–albeit slower than vessel capacity–putting carriers on watch for changes in vessel utilization rates. As utilization decreases, carriers take measures to reduce capacity during slow seasons.