The ratio between container ships on order and the world fleet has fallen to a nine year low, according to Alphaliner.
The global order book stood at 3.67 million 20-foot equivalent units at the end of May, down from a peak of 6.96 million TEUs in February 2008, according to the container market analyst.
This represents 23 percent of the existing fleet, down from a high of 64.2 percent, and the lowest ratio since April 2003.
Deliveries of new vessels have been outpacing new orders since the third quarter of 2011 according to Alphaliner.
If the current lull in new ship contracts continues, the order book could fall below 3 million TEUs, or less than 20 percent of the global container ship fleet, by the end of 2012.
While current low shipyard prices have stirred the interest of ocean carriers and ship owners, the difficulty in raising finance has limited firm orders, excluding options, to just 15,700 TEUs in the first five months of the year.
The subdued funding environment is delaying ship contracts. An order for 10 13,800 TEUs placed by ocean carrier Evergreen at South Korean shipbuilder Hyundai Heavy Industries has not yet been finalized despite the signing of a letter of intent to finance the contract in April.
Other stalled projects include Craig Shipping’s series of 2,000 TEUs Bangkok-max feeder ships and a series of 2,400 TEUs feeder-max vessels being promoted by German ship-owners.
The impact of the shrinking order book will not be felt until 2014 when vessel deliveries start to fall, Alphaliner said.
Deliveries are expected to reach 1.8 million TEUs in 2013, representing a 10.6 percent annual growth rate.