Global shipping hits record volume as prices fall: UN

International shipping volumes gained 4.0 percent in 2011 to a record 8.7 billion tonnes even as prices fell sharply owing to surplus capacity, a United Nations think tank said Tuesday.

Despite increasing demand, "world ship supply capacity expanded much faster, at a rate of 10 per cent, reaching for the first time a total of 1.5 billion deadweight tons," the UN's Conference on Trade and Development's (UNCTAD) Review of Maritime Transport 2011 explained.

The indicators are important because about 80 percent of global trade is transported by ship, UNCTAD noted.

As an indication of the falling prices, the cost of transporting a 20-foot container from Shanghai to northern Europe plunged from $1,789 (1,367 euros) in 2010 to $881 in 2011, the think tank said.

The average cost of shipping a 40-foot container from Shanghai to the US West Coast fell over the same period from $2,308 to $1,667, according to the UN report released in Geneva.

And in a "remarkable shift" away from previous years, developing country ports took a far greater slice of the global shipping sector pie than before, UNCTAD said.

In developing countries, ports loaded 60 percent and unloaded 57 percent of world seaborne trade by volume, the report showed.

Meanwhile, in a sign of declining competition in the industry, the average number of shipping companies dropped by nearly 23 percent between 2004 and 2011, UNCTAD said.

During the same period, the size of the largest ship deployed nearly doubled, it noted.

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