Thailand Merchant Marine can play a bigger role

Notwithstanding Thailand geographic location, which puts nation outside main global cargo flows, Thai’s merchant marine fleet is listed in top 35 nations, albeit second-to-last, with Oman closing the list. As of 2017, total number of Thailand-owned ships was 393 (7,022,484 tons of dwt), with comparatively small percentage of ships registered under foreign flags, 27.84 percent against world average of 70%.
Thailand Flag is among Top 35 Registries, with 781 vessels (including fishing vessels) registered under Thailand Flag of 5,374,875 dwt tonnage.

As of year 2010, Thai Merchant Marine Fleet of 363 ships included ships by type:
bulk carrier 31,
general cargo 99,
chemical tanker 28,
container 18,
liquefied gas 36,
passenger 1,
passenger/cargo 10,
petroleum tanker 114,
refrigerated cargo 24,
roll on/roll off 1,
vehicle carrier 1.

Thailand Shipowners Association embraces some 50 members, with combined fleet totaling 347ships of 2,919,024 dwt.
Among them world-known companies such as Precious Shipping with the fleet of 36 modern bulk carriers, ranging from Handy to Ultramax, and Thorensen Shipping, owning 15 modern Handymax bulk carriers.
Sang Thai Navigation 1977 owns modern fleet 8 of general cargo ships of average 10,000 dwt.
Regional Container Lines Company runs a bunch of well-known BHUM container ships of up to 32,000 dwt.
Prima Marine Company owns two VLCC (one converted into FSU).
Nathalin Company bags one VLCC of 310,000 dwt.

Bangkok and Laem Chabang are the main Thailand ports, according to latest Annual Report 2014 of Thailand Ports Authority, Bangkok turnover was 21,422 million tons and 1,519 million TEU, Laem Chabang handled 72,264 million tons and 6,459 million TEU.
In 2016 Laem Chabang had 6,312 vessel calls, up 0.11 percent over 2015, while Bangkok Port had 3,067 calls, down 5.5 percent from 2015.

As probably, everywhere around the world, Thai shipping industry blames, partially at least, government, for underestimating Merchant Marine importance for national economy. It’s a common story – governments are happy to profit from shipwoners, but very unhappy when it comes to supporting them, even if some specific support doesn’t bear any expenses.
Still, the main factor hampering Thai Merchant Marine development seems to be determined by Thailand geographic location, putting the country outside main cargo flows and seaways, albeit very near. That’s why Thailand is trying to re-direct some cargo flows to its’ ports.

Most ambitious plan of Thailand with regards to expanding its’ ports facilities and role in regional shipping is the plan to transform the deep-sea port in Laem Chabang into the “Rotterdam Port” of Asean.
“Laem Chabang Phase 3 will be an important project as it will be developed to become ‘the Rotterdam of Asean’ to help distribute goods from China, Laos, Cambodia and Myanmar to the rest of the world,” said Vice PM’s Office Minister Kobsak Pootrakool in July 2016.
“Ranked as the world’s 21st busiest container port by total container volume (as of July 2014), Laem Chabang Port is continuing to raise its capacity and competitiveness, to meet the anticipated surge in cargo volume arising from Asean Economic Community (AEC) integration and to enable Thailand to compete effectively under the tougher market conditions of the AEC”, said officials.

But of course, major project which will undoubtedly, boost Thailand Merchant Marine and shipping in general, is Kra Canal project (
It was believed after official statements late last year, that the project is shelved, at least for the time being. But here it comes again:

The Thai Canal Association for Study and Development has filed a formal request to the current government to undertake a full feasibility study to make the Kra Canal a reality.
The news was broken at the British Chamber of Commerce in Thailand (BCCT) Phuket Business Dinner event at the Amari Phuket resort south of Patong on Thursday night (Feb 1), where two key proponents behind the project – Royal Thai Navy Adm (Rtd) Soopakorn Boonranadiloak and Pakdee Tanapura – were guest speakers.

Key to the surge in approval is likely the new planned route polled. The new route, dubbed “9A”, is located further up the coast than its predecessor, “5A”, which would have seen ships enter the canal at Pak Bara in Satun. Only 135 kilometres long, the route 9A will see ships enter the canal at Sikao in Trang, little over 100km in a direct line southeast of Phuket.
The reasons behind this new request are rather controversial and superficial, but after all, the supporters of the idea are asking for a feasibility study, not the immediate implementation.

Thai Merchant Marine is up to its’ national tasks, but may develop into a prominent regional player, either if environment changes, brining in international cargo flows (transformation of Laem Chabang into regional cargo hub, or building Kra Canal); or if government and nation in general, will make the development of nation’s Merchant Marine one of nation’s priorities.

Voytenko Mikhail
February 2018

Some photos I took at Laem Chabang and Map Ta Put ports, while visiting ships under command of my friends.

Helping abandoned reefer crew, Ko Sichang Anchorage



My name is Mikhail Voytenko, I’m Russian, professional merchant marine navigator, by education and former experience. I own and run Maritime Bulletin website for more than 10 years. I've been involved in solving a number of piracy hijack cases, including the hijack of ro-ro FAINA, loaded with tanks. It was me who made public, and unravel, freighter ARCTIC SEA mystery. I've been also closely involved in a number of maritime disaster, one of them being MSC FLAMINIA major fire.