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08 December 2021 The on-line newspaper devoted to the world of transports 00:50 GMT+1

The Shipbuilding market in 2004


The economy and trade  
Freight rates 
Analysis by country
      - Asia
      - Europe
      - Russia
      - U.S.A. 

For the shipbuilding markets, 2004 can justifiably be considered as the year that broke all records. This phenomenal upsurge of newbuilding activity in 2004, has been characterised by a number of salient factors:

A flood of new orders in the shipyards. This has been equalled only by the record volumes across tonnage types achieved in 2003. During the course of 2004, the world orderbook jumped from 125 million gt to nearly 165 million gt, representing more than 3,700 ships. This figure was only 65 million gt in mid 2002. Deliveries are spread out to year-end 2008, and in some cases the shipyards are committed through to 2009.

A strong rise in sale prices. The top prices achieved for tankers and bulk carriers at the beginning of the 1990’s have been reached again and even exceeded. The long-standing symbolic barrier of $100 million for VLCCs and very large containerships has been surpassed; in some cases by as much as 20 %. Exceptionally high freight rates have brought on fierce competition between owners. This has been witnessed in the numerous resales of ships under construction, and in the second-hand market ships have been purchased at prices above newbuilding prices. These factors have conspired to bring about the price hikes have seen in 2004. At the same time, builders have been facing exceptional cost increases mainly due to more expensive supplies and a depreciation of the dollar. Shipyards have in this respect received only the meagre leftovers of the lucrative financial results being enjoyed in the shipping sector.

An increase of global shipbuilding capacity. Korea has once again consolidated its position as the world shipbuilding leader with an orderbook of about 62 million gt compared with 49 million gt in 2003. Japan has reaffirmed its second-place position with nearly 54 million gt as opposed to 43 million gt twelve months earlier. China has continued its inexorable ascent with near to 26 million gt against 17 million gt at the end of 2003. Against this increase in orders in the Far East, the Asian shipyards’ saturation has helped to bring about an increase in activity in the West and East European shipyards. Between year-end 2003 and year-end 2004, West and East European orderbooks climbed from 6 to nearly 8.5 million gt and 5 million to nearly 7.5 million gt, respectively. The desperate search for newbuilding berths with early delivery dates has sent owners off to other more remote destinations (Vietnam, Iran, Russia, India, Brazil, Dubai ….. ) whose figures have gone up from 4 to 7 million gt.

An adaptation to the new situation. Builders and owners have been seen to adapt their attitudes facing this new situation. Builders have become more and more discriminatory. They have given preferential treatment to ships, of which  the values maximise the turnover of each of their berths, or standard designs. They have also been seen to give priority to their faithful clients, and clients who are deemed not too demanding. This behaviour has been brought on in large part due to the worrying cost increases on existing contracts, which have seriously dented shipyards’ profit margins in 2004, despite the rise in newbuilding prices during the year. Owners, who are reaping the financial benefits due to a freight market, which has been unequalled in modern times, are visibly more relaxed and even sometimes euphoric. Whereas only a short time ago, owners used to bitterly discuss technical specifications, prices and payment terms, nowadays they are more pragmatic, accepting terms and conditions imposed by shipyards, provided that they allow them to place new orders.

The economy and trade

In 2004, the world economy made strong gains with an average GDP growth rate of 5 % per year. This signifies the largest increase during the past 30 years. In tandem with world growth, commercial trade has flourished, increasing almost 9 % compared to a growth of commercial trade of 5 % in 2003.

This rapid expansion and the increase in the demand of raw material, largely explains the unprecedented hike in freight rates as well as the large number and volume of transactions on the second-hand and the newbuilding markets.


This rapid expansion and the demand that this has generated on the raw material market, largely explains the unprecedented hike in freight rates as well as the large number and volume of transactions on the second-hand and the newbuilding markets.

Freight rates

Dry bulk freight rates continued their irresistible ascent and achieved historic levels. This frenzy has been fed by the enormous demand for raw materials generated by China, which has become the world’s main importer of most raw materials in a few years. This drastic rise in rates has brought about a fear of overheating throughout the year. The declarations of the Prime Minister of China at the end of April certainly set the tune for the serious correction that occurred during the spring. This correction was however short-lived. By the beginning of summer, rates had started to climb again. Despite very high volatility (the Baltic Dry Index swung between 2,600 and 6,200 points), these rates, which had already doubled on average between 2002 and 2003, doubled again between 2003 and 2004.

In 2004, containership rates were bolstered by the growth in commercial trade and Chinese exports. The American commercial deficit has reached historically high levels at nearly $600 billion. By and large the containership rates manifested less volatility compared to the dry bulk or liquid markets as it is characterised by line operators employing owned or long-termed chartered ships on their routes. Containership rates, which doubled on average between 2002 and 2003, have tripled between 2002 and 2004.

For the first time the price of crude oil broke the $55/bbl barrier in 2004, and the oil market has remained extremely nervous throughout the year. Freight rates for tankers doubled on average between 2003 and 2004.

Despite relatively high volatility, freight rates thus have achieved record levels in 2004, allowing owners to get substantial investment leverage for ordering new ships. It was by no means obvious at the end of 2003 that owners would be able to order in 2004 as many ships as the previous year. Yet they did so, and at higher prices and for later deliveries.



Bulk carriers

With nearly 37 million dwt ordered compared with 33 million in 2003, orders for bulk carriers and in particular for Capesizes were numerous in 2004.

The orderbook has increased and gone from 53.1 million dwt at year-end 2003 to 71.6 million dwt year-end 2004. The fleet on order at the end of 2004 represented nearly 22% of the existing fleet, as against 17% in 2003. The uncertainties surrounding the future necessity for double-hulled vessels was settled in May 2004 with a decision to keep the status quo.

Owners faced several problems in finding berth space to order their bulk carriers, ships often judged to be too simple by builders. Korean shipyards prefer to build ships with better returns and bulk carriers in Korea only represent 5 % of the shipbuilding market as compared to 25 % in 2000. Apart from certain shipyards that today are making it their speciality (like Shanghai Waigaoqiao Shipyards (SWS) and Bohai for Capesizes, Jiangnan and Hudong-Zhonghua for Panamaxes), Chinese shipyards are by and large moving to other types of ships. This leaves predictably Japanese builders with the lion’s share of this sector, with nearly 65 % but they also give priority to domestic owners and are saturated.

Owners and operators are looking for economies of scale and a number of 200,000 dwt bulk carriers as well as 230,000 and 300,000 dwt ore carriers have been ordered. The latest very large ore carriers were delivered by Hyundai Heavy Industries in 1992 and Daewoo in 1997.

In sum, demand for bulk carriers remains strong and has not as been totally satisfied yet.


With close to 26 million dwt on order, demand for containerships has been as sustained as in 2003.

The orderbook has grown at a consistent pace, going from 35.5 million dwt at the end of 2003 to 54.3 million dwt in 2004. The fleet under construction at year-end 2004 represents a figure of 53 % of the existing fleet, as against 35 % in 2003 (only cellular ships), which gives rise to some concerns.

Korean shipyards, which hold nearly 65 % of the market were unable or did not want to satisfy the totality of this buoyant demand. They have concentrated almost exclusively on very large containerships, leaving opportunities for Chinese, Taiwanese, Singaporean, German and Polish shipyards to fill the void.

In a way, containerships have set the pace for the newbuilding market in pushing prices higher. It is indeed the sector which has seen the strongest demand. Amongst the main three segments that form the core of newbuildings, this is the one that offers the highest prices to the builders, other factors being equal. The added value to the shipyards is also higher as these ships require less steel, less external procurement, are often ordered in series and can be easily adapted or modified.

As was the case in 2003, a number of over-Panamax containerships were ordered in 2004. With close to 50 units over 7,500 teu in service, 170 units were on order by the end of 2004. New size records were achieved with the order of container carriers of 9,300 teu for the account of AP Moller, whilst CMA-CGM and Hyundai Heavy Industries agreed to extend the capacity of ships previously ordered from 8,300 teu to 9,300 teu. The 10,000 teu barrier will shortly be broken, probably bringing about a new wave of orders, motivated by a race for size between operators. The coming about of a new generation of containerships above 10,000 teu will nonetheless require to adapt port handling facilities.

In the meantime, demand for smaller container carriers (1,100, 1,800, 2,700, 3,500, and 4,300 teu), which are usually employed as feeders for the large mother vessels, has also been very healthy. This trend can be expected to continue. Given that the ratio of the fleet on order versus the existing fleet is particularly high and that the predictable growth in teu terms is above international trade progression, the number of new orders might logically slow down in the coming months.



With some 44 million dwt ordered, demand for tankers has remained strong, although lower than that of 2003 with 52 million dwt.

The orderbook has nonetheless increased and has gone from 83.5 million dwt at year-end 2003 to 102.3 million dwt at year-end 2004. The fleet on order at the end of 2004 represented some 31 % of the existing fleet as compared to 26 % a year earlier.

How does one explain this relatively-speaking smaller demand this year, especially in comparison to the progression of containerships and bulk carriers? To understand this, it is important to recognise that the renewal of the tanker fleet, started earlier, following the oil pollution disasters of the ‘Erika’ in 1999 and the ‘Prestige’ in 2002. The average volume ordered each year since 1999 has in fact been 30 million dwt for tankers as against 22 million dwt for bulk carriers and 14 million dwt for containerships. In addition, the competition with containerships in the shipyards has also played its part.

Demand for ice-strengthened tankers has remained sustained despite a mild winter, essentially responding to the development of loading of crude or refined products out of the Gulf of Finland, the White Sea and from the Sakhalin islands, where Russia and the Baltic states are in the process of building new ports and expanding their export capacities. Thus there are 72 MR product carriers, 25 Panamaxes, 41 Aframaxes, and 17 Suezmaxes which are ice-classed out of respectively 407, 161, 174 and 89 ships on order.


Stena Polaris
75,000 dwt, ice class 1A Panamax product tanker, ordered at Split by Concordia Maritime for delivery 2006 and long-term chartered to Fortum Oil

In addition, traffic is considerably increasing in some tight waters and it is very likely that the strong growth in Russian exports out of the Baltic or the Black Sea will result in the enforcement of new regulations and security measures from the bordering countries to protect their coastlines. There is regrettably one incident a month in the Baltic. Some oil companies and European owners, who want to improve the security of their ships, have jumped the gun and ordered ships with double propulsion.

Specialised tonnage

New orders for specialised tonnage have also considerably increased this year with the exception of Ro-ro’s, and reefer ships. The number of specialised ships remains, however, weak compared to standard ones. Few sectors have remained inactive, which is a sign of the vitality of the shipping market in 2004.

Stainless steel chemical carriers

The number of stainless steel chemical carriers ordered has gone from 59 in 2003 to 77 in 2004. The orderbook is growing and has increased from 1.6 million dwt year-end 2003 to 2.1 million dwt year-end 2004. The fleet under construction at the end of 2004 represented some 16.5 % of the existing fleet, against 13.8 % a year earlier. Most of these ships have been ordered at Japanese shipyards. The demand has not even been entirely met, given that the price of stainless steel has suddenly become much more expensive and that yards also suffered from supply disruption.

LNG carriers

During the course of the year the number of LNG carriers ordered nearly quadrupled, going from 20 to 76. The orderbook has gone from 63 ships at the end of 2003 to 116 ships, making a total capacity of 17.1 million cbm, by the end of 2004. The fleet under construction represents about 80 % of the existing fleet compared to 48 % a year earlier. Many ships have been contracted without long-term employment.

This market, which has been so far very conservative, is quickly changing. The maximum size of ships, which was in the past ranging from 125,000 to 130,000 cbm, has progressively moved up to 140,000 cbm and then 150,000 cbm. In order to meet the requirements of the gigantic Qatari LNG export project, a series of LNG carriers of 210,000 cbm has been ordered in Korea. In addition, diesel-electric propulsion seems to be progressively more sought after.

The majority of the orders was placed in Korea and Japan in 2004. The European shipyards who invented this sophisticated type of transport and banked on a strong future demand, are practically absent from this market. This year, Hudong-Zhonghua of Shanghai joined the “club” of LNG carrier builder with the order in August 2004 for two ships of 147,000 cbm.

LPG carriers

The number of new orders for LPG carriers has practically doubled, going from 26 in 2003 to 45 in 2004. The orderbook has also risen from 1,6 million cbm at year-end 2003 to 2,6 million cbm at year-end 2004.

The majority of the orders of small LPG carriers has been placed at Japanese yards, whereas those of bigger sizes have been placed in Korea, with the exception of some large units contracted with Mitsubishi Heavy Industries and Kasawaki Heavy Industries in Japan and with Gdynia in Poland.

Ferries and Ro-pax

The number of Ferries and Ro-paxes on orders went from 13 to 27. The total orderbook increased from 32 ships at year-end 2003 to 46 ships year-end 2004.

With the exception of a Ferry ordered in Japan by a domestic owner and an option to declare by Norfolk Lines for a newbuilding at Samsung in Korea, the 27 Ferries and Ro-paxes ordered in 2004 have been placed at European shipyards, with the Italians being awarded nearly half of this total. This situation is largely due to the concentration of Asian builders on more standard ships.


Only a few Ro-ro’s were ordered in 2004. The few European shipyards which possess a real expertise in this type of ship are quoting prices in euros, which are often prohibitive to charterers, given the freight levels in this sector. Only a handful of projects actually materialised.


The number of Car-carriers ordered went from 59 in 2003 to 80 in 2004. The orderbook has increased and reached a capacity of nearly 800,000 vehicles at year-end 2004, a considerable increase from 526,000 vehicles at year-end 2003.

New orders have almost exclusively been placed for large PCTC (Pure Car Truck Carriers) with a capacity of 4,300 up to nearly 7,000 cars. These orders have been contracted with yards in Japan and Korea, and also in Croatia and Italy.

This sustained demand is a response to the growth of the world automotive industry. The outsourcing of production and the development of new markets, as in China, have helped increasing the demand for new vehicles shipments. The latest forecasts indicate an annual traffic of about 10 million vehicles by 2008 as compared to 8.7 million in 2004.

New requirements could soon come about for intermediate size ships, around 2,000 to 3,000 cars, to be used as feeders for large carriers or for regional trades in the intra-European or intra-Asian markets.


2004 signalled a comeback of confidence by cruiseship operators of with 13 new orders, all signed up with the four leading European builders who are specialised in this sector. It has been the best year since 2000. (see our article on the cruise market.)


Newbuilding prices expressed in dollars have quickly progressed in 2004. The increase for all tonnage-types was on average 40 %. By contrast the figure was roughly 20 % in 2003. This figure appeared to be a relatively modest rise given the strong increase in the volume of new orders over the year (110 million dwt in 2003 as against 50 million in 2002).

The volume of orders in 2004 remained at the same high level as in 2003 (more than 100 million dwt). Nevertheless the situation has been different in 2004 as the production capacities of builders, whose orderbooks in 2004 were spread out over three to four years as against roughly two in 2002, became saturated. This factor militated to push up prices to levels not seen since before the Asian crisis of 1997/1998.

We have seen cascade effects on prices starting from the newbuilding market to have then an impact on newbuilding resales and finally on second-hand tonnage. The demand for tonnage at any cost has pushed up the prices of ships with prompt delivery dates, as well as the prices of recent units, to levels above the price being asked by builders for far later deliveries. The latter have been able to use these new benchmarks to increase their own prices.

Swift and significant fluctuations in prices help foster speculation. The behaviour of owners and builders alike, has changed over the course of 2004. One saw a much greater reactivity on the part of builders, who have become more alert to the outside world thanks to the availability of instantaneous information. They have thus apprehended news of the latest deals concluded more rapidly.

However, for the moment builders are not getting any benefits from this situation. They had to face unprecedented costs increases, as the raw material market took off in 2004. Steel prices doubled and went from $ 300/t to more than $ 600/t; stainless steel and non-ferrous metal prices have tripled. This rising cost movement has affected not only steel plates and profiles, but also pipes, cables, bulkheads, machinery, pumps, heat exchangers and so forth. It should be remembered, for reference, that the main engine onboard a 8,500 teu containership weighs 2,400 tons. Finally, in addition to all this, energy also became more expensive.

Could the shipyards have protected themselves against such increases? Shipyards traditionally ordered their materials and spare parts, with suppliers and equipment makers, soon after having signed the newbuilding contracts in order to fix their costs. This was at the time when ships could still be expected to be delivered within two years’ time. But the expansion of orderbooks, entailing procurement exposures much further into the future, no longer allows for this. As to steel, it is usually payable by the builder the day of its delivery to the shipyard, which means about twelve months before the delivery of the ship, given effective building delays which have become shorter. In other words, the yard has to pay for its steel requirements nearly two years after contract has been signed.

Worst still, shipyards have had to face delays in supplies whilst they have nevertheless had to honour firm commitments with their clients. Steel shortages came to public attention when Nissan, the car maker, announced at the end of November 2004 that they had to halt production for at least a week. Korean authorities decided during the year to postpone all exports of steel. Other sectors were also hit. It was already by the end of 2004 becoming virtually impossible to find slow speed diesel engines for delivery in 2007 due to a disruption in the supplies of essential parts.

The dollar’s unrepentant decline has been another thorn in the pillow of shipyards. Exchanges rates at the beginning of 2004 were about 1,200 South Korean won and 106 Japanese yen for one dollar. By year-end the won stood at 1,050 and the yen at 103 to the dollar. This trend has as yet shown no signs of weakness. Despite a fixed exchange between the yuan and the dollar, Chinese builders have had to buy a large quantity of equipment overseas (from Europe, Japan, and Korea) and have thereby suffered from a similar exchange rate pressures for their supplies. During 2002 in a difficult market, some builders had accepted delayed payment terms and now face significant currency losses as a consequence.

Prices for specialised tonnage have also risen, given the increases in raw materials costs and a more sustained demand compared to 2003. But these increases were less significant, as competition between shipyards remained strong. As an example, the number of LNG carriers builders is basically the same as for VLCCs or Capesizes. Thus the price of LNG ships of 145,000 to 150,000 cbm remained at the very low levels achieved in 1999, in the region of $155 million, until mid 2004, when it gradually increased to reach $185 million at the end of the year.

The unprecedented demand, the difficulties shipyards face in executing current contracts, the numerous doubts as to the price of materials and equipment, the continued uncertainty of exchange rates and the recurrent difficulties in obtaining supplies without too many delays, should continue to push newbuilding prices higher in 2005. As a saving grace, we can probably expect a steadier evolution than we saw in 2004.


Analysis by country

Shipping and Shipbuilding Markets in 2004


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