Denmark is the world’s fifth largest maritime shipping nation!


Denmark is the world’s fifth largest maritime shipping nation!

American-Danish Business Council

11 July 2019

As gatekeeper to the Baltic Sea, Denmark’s geographic location has played a strong influential factor in the country’s development into one of the world’s leading maritime nations. Surrounded by sea, Denmark has more than 400 islands and a total coastline of over 7,000 kilometers. Therefore, maritime transport has been a vital source of income in Denmark and is continually growing hand-in-hand with increasing international trade. Danes have been active in the shipping business from the Viking era. Today almost 10% of global trade is transported by ships under Danish control.

On May 30th, 2014 the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Denmark published a new special report on the Danish maritime sector called: “Focus Denmark – A new era of shipping”. The report provides an insight into the past and current state of the Danish maritime sector and outlines the future focus of Danish shipping.

Since 1996 the total volume of goods transported by the global merchant fleet has more than doubled. Measured in GT (gross tonnage), the total volume of goods has increased from app. 450,000 GT in 1996 to more than 1 billion GT in 2013. Today approximately 90% of global goods are transported by sea and, in Denmark; about 75% of all Danish exports are conveyed by ship. The massive growth in the volume of goods shipped by sea worldwide since 1996 is largely a result of increased global trade. Maritime shipping is significantly cheaper and produces far fewer environmentally harmful substances and greenhouse gases per transported tonnage/kilometer compared to air and ground transport.

Koji Sekimizu, Secretary-General of the International Maritime Organization (IMO), expressed his confidence in the future of shipping at the International Shipping Conference (ICS) in London in September 2013: “The fortunes of shipping are directly related to the strength of global trade; and, despite the current global economic problems, growth in the longer term seems inevitable. A global population that has passed 7 billion people and is still rising should ensure that is the case. So, in the longer term, shipping has great cause for optimism, with a strong future ahead of it.”

However, even though everything points in the direction of continued growth in the industry, there will most likely be major shifts between countries, according to Henrik Sornn-Friese, Associate Professor and Director of CBS Maritime at Copenhagen Business School. “The old way of doing things, where you designed a ship in the West, built it in the East and marketed and operated it in the West, is disappearing. At the same time, there are lots of well-qualified shipping personnel in many of the emerging economies.”

The Danish merchant fleet is larger than ever before

According to a report from the Danish Ship-owners Association that was published in the end of 2014, the Danish merchant fleet has grown by 13% since 2013. With 637 ships transporting about 13.8 million GT, the Danish-flagged merchant fleet has never been greater. Numbers provided by Invest in Denmark states that Danish ship owners own approximately 3% of the world’s tonnage transported by sea and 6% of the world’s tonnage is operated from Denmark. The increasing number of Danish ships is particularly related to the inflow of ships involved in the installation of offshore wind turbines and offshore supply vessels. Approximately 115,000 people work in the Danish maritime sector and the industries supplying the shipping industry. The maritime of Danish maritime companies accounts for about 24% of the total Danish export.


Denmark is the world’s fifth largest maritime shipping nation – only surpassed by Japan, Greece, China and Germany. Currently, Danish shipping companies around the world control approximately 2,100 merchant ships. Maersk Line is Denmark’s and the world’s largest container shipping company, with more than 600 ships, 35,000 port calls per year and 100,000 customers around the world. Large Danish shipping companies, such as Norden, DFDS, Clipper, J. Lauritzen and Torm, are also strong players in areas such as product tankers, bulk carriers and service vessels for the offshore industry.

The future growth plan for “The Blue Denmark”

The blue denmark

December 12th 2012, the Danish Government presented its growth plan for The Blue Denmark in order to support the Danish merchant fleet. The Danish maritime sector accounts for nearly one-fourth of total Danish exports and is therefore of great importance to Danish growth and workplaces. In order to support continued growth, the growth plan aims at attracting international partners and investors in the areas of environmental friendliness, servicing the offshore industry, sailing in Arctic waters and other niches where Danish shipping is a world leader. The shipping industry growth plan is based on three main objectives, which are explained below:

  1. Denmark is to be Europe’s maritime center.

An important factor for developing and growing Danish shipping is a highly skilled workforce, as well as continued inflow of qualified employees, both at sea and ashore. In 2006, the Blue Denmark established a collective recruitment effort to increase the amount of qualified labor to the industry. The campaign focuses on raising awareness of the Danish maritime sector, clarifying career opportunities, and insuring the supply of qualified applicants.

In the summer of 2014 a new Bachelor of International Shipping and Trade begun as a result of collaboration between Singapore Management University (SMU) and Copenhagen Business School (CBS). During the program the students will be brought together, first for a semester at CBS followed by a semester at SMU. Martin Jes Iversen, Associate Professor and Head of Studies for the program, stresses that these new students will be in strong demand: “There is a great need in shipping for people who can work in an international environment and who have good cultural and social skills.

  1. Denmark must lead the way with green solutions in shipping

In 2008, members of the Danish Ship-owners Association launched efforts to reduce the Danish merchant fleet’s total carbon emissions by 25% by 2020. Danish shipping companies have worked hard towards achieving this goal and today the target is close to being met, despite the fact the tonnage being shipped has risen by 60% since 2008. Initiatives that have contributed to reaching the target include: cuts in fuel consumption through technical improvements and climate-friendly sailing, including optimized shipping routes and “slow steaming”, which saves fuel by reducing speed.

Denmark has called for more regulation of the global shipping industry and has suggested an overall global target for reducing carbon emissions. Denmark has introduced three environmental proposals in the IMO. These proposals included some basic principles for the regulation of the global shipping industry’s carbon emissions, which have now been adopted by the IMO. Denmark also proposed a design index that implies strict carbon efficiency requirements for the building of new ships. Finally, Denmark proposed the implementation of a fuel contribution for ships in international shipping traffic. The contribution should be payable to an international fund who should assist in funding climate initiatives in developing countries.

  1. Growth in the maritime cluster will primarily be in “advanced shipping”.

Copenhagen is still on level with Singapore and other international ‘hubs’ for shipping, but a sharper profile will be necessary in the future,” Sornn-Friese says. “Even more so than today, Denmark needs to be known as a center for what could be called ‘advanced shipping’, which includes sailing in difficult waters such as the Arctic, supporting offshore activities and environmental, climate-friendly shipping.”

As well as many other nations, Denmark has a sharp focus on Arctic shipping, because the potential of this region cannot be ignored. The shrinking ice cover in combination with increasing cruise ship tourism, economic benefits of shipping via new routes and the search for oil and other natural resources will undoubtedly lead to more traffic. Denmark aims to ensure that shipping traffic growth will include a focus on the protection for human life, ships, cargo and the Arctic environment. Andreas Nordseth, director general of the Danish Maritime Authority states: “It’s important to establish an international set of rules for shipping in Arctic waters”. In that regard, Denmark is playing an active role in the development of an international “Polar Code” through IMO. Northseth also stresses the fact that it will require additional safety measures to sail the Arctic waters: “A number of Danish shipping companies have experience sailing in Arctic waters. They know that it takes special equipment and special skills to sail in icy waters where weather and ice conditions can change by the hour. It’s unrealistic to maintain a rescue unit in the Arctic like we have in densely populated areas. So it’s vital that we have even greater focus on preventing accidents when sailing in the Arctic.”

To support shipping safety in the Arctic, the Danish Maritime Authority is developing a web-based tool, called ArcticWeb, to help prevent accidents in the area. By the use of Automatic Identification System (AIS) data, the system enables ships to see other ships sailing in the area. ArcticWeb also provides ships with information on ice, weather conditions and navigation warnings in the area, thereby helping to ensure a safer shipping route for the companies.

See also: Andreas Nordseth nominated as Secretary-General of the IMO

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