UK Ship Register up by 12% since 2015, still favoured by UK owners

Data shows the UK flag continues to be a preferred choice for compatriot shipowners - but there is always room for improvement

Red Ensign1

Gross tonnage on the UK Ship Register (UKSR) has increased by almost 12% over the past two years and over 6.0% since 2017 began, which has helped the registry move up one place to become the world’s 14th biggest in terms of tonnage.

The flag now has a total of 16,186,843 GT on its books, the highest level seen since August 2013, according to data from Clarksons. 

The UKSR’s total gross tonnage has grown by 11.9% since 2015, when it had 14,470,895 GT on its register.

Northern Marine Management and Stolt Tankers are among companies that have recently flagged vessels under the red ensign. 

“This is hard evidence of the work the UKSR is doing by providing a ‘fit for service’ register that is flexible and meeting quality customer requirements,” Doug Barrow, director of the UKSR, said in a release. 

The average age of 85% of internationally trading ships greater than 500 GT on the UKSR fell to 9.52 years, according to the Clarksons data.

The average age of the whole UK fleet over 100 GT has also fallen to 20.48 years, the lowest figure seen since the end of 2013.

In September, the Government announced its ambition to double the size of the UKSR to 30.0 million GT after the country leaves the European Union. If successful, this would propel the UK into the world’s top 10 flag states. 

Shipping Minister John Hayes used London International Shipping Week as an opportunity to sell the main benefits of flying the red ensign, which he said includes international tax breaks for vessels; British consular support for ships in foreign docks and the protection of the Royal Navy.

Valuable fleet

The Clarksons data is echoed by that from (VV), although the online platform places the UK a little higher in the international rankings.

VV data says the UK is the world’s 13th biggest flag state in terms of tonnage, but puts the total figure at 16,743,693 GT, slightly more than Clarksons’ estimate.

The UK is the world’s 22nd biggest flag state in terms of number of vessels, with 539 vessels on its books, according to VV.

However, the data also suggests that a great proportion of these vessels are valuable, high-quality tonnage. The UKSR has an estimated worth of $8.54 billion, making it the world’s 17th most valuable fleet, VV says. 

The average vessel flying the UK flag is worth $15.84 million, by VV’s reckoning. By way of comparison, the average China-flagged vessel is worth $10.44 million – even though China’s registry flags around four times as many ships as the UK. 

UK owners’ preference

The UK continues to be a preferred flag for compatriot shipowners, although the UKSR still plays second fiddle to Liberia and the Marshall Islands, according to VV. 

In terms of number of vessels, the UK is the second biggest flag for ships owned by UK-based companies: the registry accounts for 227 vessels, second only to Liberia, which has 244 UK-owned vessels.

In terms of gross tonnage, however, the UK falls to third place, according to the data. Liberia takes the top spot with 9.00 million GT, followed by 5.28 million GT registered in the Marshall Islands and 5.06 million GT in the UK.