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Is Panama about to lose its crown as the top flag state?

More Data Storytelling

Panama has retained its position as the world’s leading flag state in terms of gross tonnage for 2022 but is facing strong competition from Liberia, which is rapidly closing the gap to its rival, while China also recorded exceptional growth in the past 12 months. 

The annual Lloyd’s List Top 10 Flag States list is compiled using data from Lloyd’s List Intelligence and includes all vessel types above 500 gross tonnes, excluding fishing vessels.

The 2022 edition shows that Panama registered 3.1% growth in terms of gross tonnage, compared to 2021, and now has 8,341 vessels registered – the most of any flag. 

However, this is dwarfed by the 13% annual increase seen by Liberia, which has more than halved the gap to the top spot to just 11m gt over the past year, while also boasting the largest containership and oil tanker fleets as well as the most dual-fuelled ships. 

With a raft of newbuildings scheduled to be delivered, Liberia expects to overtake Panama by the end of 2023. While Panama does not accept the forecast as inevitable, it has promised a raft of measures to stave off its rival’s advances.

Digitalisation, alongside platform and process improvements, have been touted as part of the improvements to Panama’s package. However, the tone of marketing has already switched to quality rather than volume.

Elsewhere in the list, the second fastest growing flag state is China. It gained 9.1% in 2022 to reach 70.4m gt and increased its vessel count to 4,941 from 4,254 in 2021. 

Bulk carriers made up the majority of the fleet by far, at more than 35m gt, followed by fully cellular containerships at 7.6m gt; general cargoships, including with container capacity, at 6.4m gt; crude oil tankers at 5.1m gt; and product tankers at 4m gt, according to the data.    

Passenger vessels — comprising cruiseships and ro-ros — amounted to 1.2m gt, while floating production tankers totalled just over 1m gt, the data showed.

The Greek flag, led by director for shipping Christos Kontorouchas, experienced the second-steepest fall of the Top 10 flag states, dropping by 2.6% versus 2021, to 35.6m gt. 

Although the state policy is to attract ships to the national registry, the lack of qualified sea personnel is a setback, meaning owners are more attracted by foreign registries, a Greek maritime representative explained to Lloyd’s List.  

The full 2022 list can be seen in the table below.



Lloyd’s List will be publishing its annual top 10 lists in the second half of November, covering a wide variety of maritime-related sectors including ship managers, law, insurance, classification, finance and more, ahead of the One Hundred People special report on the most influential players shaping shipping.