28 October 2011

Tanker Ownership in Non-OECD Countries and the Rise of Government-Owned Fleets

Al Wood, Tanker Ownership in Non-OECD Countries and the Rise of Government-Owned Fleets,” Institute for International Economic Policy Working Paper Series, Elliott School of International Affairs, The George Washington University, August 2011.       

Abstract: This paper provides an historical perspective of the global oil-tanker market, the international tanker fleet, and the major trends in tanker ownership. The available data indicate that outside the OECD, more than half of large tanker capacity is ultimately owned by governments compared to less than one percent within the OECD. A positive correlation is identified between oil imports and tanker ownership at the national level, but only for non-OECD countries. This result suggests that the forecasted increases in oil imports and exports by emerging economies over the next two decades are likely to result in higher levels of government ownership of the international oil tanker fleet.


Oil tankers constitute roughly one third of the world’s vessels in volume terms and about the same share of all seaborne trade. In 2009 80 million barrels of crude oil were produced each day and 53 million of those barrels were traded internationally with two thirds of the traded barrels transported on oil tankers. Much of that oil is transported on tankers a second time as petroleum products, such as gasoline and diesel. For the U.S. and other oil importing countries, oil tankers are a key link in the oil supply chain. For oil exporting countries, oil tankers connect them to international markets that monetize their valuable resource.

Most studies of oil tanker ownership have focused on the “registered” owners of tankers, which are the companies that legally own the tankers. But the vast majority of registered owners are subsidiaries of larger companies that maintain ultimate control of the vessels. Therefore, unless otherwise noted, this analysis will focus on the ultimate owner of each tanker, which is also known as the “beneficial” or “group” owner.

Before analyzing the available data on tanker ownership at the national level, this paper briefly explains the market for tanker services (chapter three) and provides some history of the international tanker fleet (chapter four). Chapter five explores the ownership of the current tanker fleet by the type of owner, while chapter six explores the impact of changing liability laws. Chapter seven considers ownership trends by the nationality of the ultimate owner of the tanker. Chapter eight considers the growth in of the ownership by governments of tankers, while chapter nine offers some concluding remarks with regard to US energy security. …