Denmark has leapfrogged the US to claim the world’s fifth largest operated fleet of vessels, its shipowners association says.

Denmark, which boasts the planet's biggest shipowning company in AP Moller-Maersk, has moved past the US only 18 months after taking sixth spot from Germany.

Anne Steffensen, chief executive of Danish Shipping, said: “We have seen an important increase in the number of ships operated by Danish shipping companies, and at the same time there are more ships flying the Danish flag than ever before.”

Shipping is a major industry in Denmark accounting for DDK 118bn in exports last year.

Simon Kollerup, minister for industry, business and financial affairs, said in a statement: “Denmark is a small country, but there are not many other countries that can measure up to us when it comes to shipping.

“This is, of course, because we are a nation with long proud maritime traditions, but also because Denmark in recent times is among the leading countries when it comes to ensuring a green transition of shipping.”

Danish Shipping ranks Greece as the largest shipping nation with an operated fleet of 168m-gt.

Singapore, China and Japan are also ahead of Denmark’s 65 million gt. The US fleet stands at 63m gt, according to data published today.

“The next 5-10 years are crucial to finding the way to CO2-neutral ships, which will be a prerequisite for continued growth in shipping,” Steffensen said.

“The knowledge required must come through investment from the industry, targeted research, education and innovative start-ups, which can maintain and develop the Danish merchant fleet's position as the fifth largest in the world.”