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Capacity of oil tankers in seaborne trade 1980-2019

This statistic portrays the capacity of the world oil tanker fleet from 1980 through 2019. In 2019, the global oil tanker fleet had a capacity of around 568 million deadweight tonnage. In terms of tonnage, oil tankers account for around 29 percent of global seaborne trade.

Global oil tanker fleet

Despite the rising contribution of renewable sources to the global energy consumption, the global economy is still heavily dependent on oil. Since oil is the most used energy source, increasing energy demand contributes to oil drilling and transportation. This can be also observed in the growing capacity of oil tankers in global seaborne trade over recent decades. For example, in 2018, South Korea delivered oil tankers in excess of six million gross tons. As of April 2020, there were 810 very large crude carriers (VLCC) in the global fleet. On average, one VLCC can transport over two million barrels of crude oil. More than half of the global oil tanker fleet was less than ten years old in 2019.

Oil spills

Petroleum extraction and transport are risky activities, which can severely damage the environment if not conducted in accordance with regulations. During the Atlantic Empress incident in 1979, over 287,000 metric tons of oil were spilled into the Caribbean Sea. This was the largest oil tanker disaster in the past 50 years. Recurring oil spills during the second half of the 20th century led to stricter international and national regulations for petroleum extraction, transportation, and production, to reduce the damage of the oil economy on the environment. These efforts were repaid: the average annual number of large oil spills worldwide decreased to 1.8 in the 2010-2019 decade, down from an average of 24.5 large oil spills per year between 1970 and 1979. However, oil spills have not been eliminated, despite the better control and diagnostic techniques. In 2019, roughly 1,000 metric tons of oil were leaked from tanker incidents.

Capacity of oil tankers in seaborne trade from 1980 to 2019 (in million dwt)*

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Release date




Survey time period

1980 to 2019

Supplementary notes

* Beginning-of-year figures; the values for 1980 through 2017 are taken from a previous edition.
The figures have been rounded.
The unit dwt (deadweight tonnage) is the carrying capacity of a merchant ship.

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