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Top 10 classification societies 2023

There has been no change in the league table of Top 10 class societies by gross tonnage in 2023, as DNV holds on to the top spot — but ABS is snapping at its heels

The world’s leading classification societies are fundamental to the decarbonisation and digitalisation of shipping. The year 2023 has seen a flow of communications from class regarding approvals in principles for new carbon-reduction technology and concept designs for alternative fuel vessels — even including the once-derided nuclear power. Meanwhile, LRs Nick Brown steps down from two-and-half years as chairman of the International Association of Classification Societies, to be replaced by Rinas Roberto Cazzulo in January 2024

01 / Knut Ørbeck-Nilssen, DNV

DNV chief executive Knut Ørbeck-Nilssen said the 2020s have been marked as the decisive decade for shipping, with the securing of a greener fuel supply being critical.

However, he believes that focusing on fuels alone will distract the industry from making an impact this decade.

“Ambitious future declarations are not good enough,” he said. “What we need are tangible actions that will reduce emissions. Energy-efficiency measures can deliver decarbonisation results now and towards 2030.”

In 2023, the world’s largest class society in gross tonnage terms launched Emissions Connect, a data verification engine and data management platform designed to help the maritime industry accurately assess and work with emissions data.

“Reducing emissions and reporting on progress is becoming increasingly important for the maritime industry and is set to have an impact on business that goes beyond regulatory compliance,” said Ørbeck-Nilssen.

He also warned of the growing safety risk of cyber security, which he considers could be “the” risk for the coming decade.


Christopher Wiernicki, ABS

02 / Christopher Wiernicki, ABS

ABS had the distinction in 2023 of undertaking newbuilding class approval for the world’s first methanol-powered container vessel, Laura Maersk (IMO: 9944546), which entered service in October.

The world’s second-largest class society launched ABS Wavesight, a new maritime software as a service company dedicated to helping shipowners and operators streamline compliance. 

In July, long-serving ABS executive John McDonald was elected as new president and joined the ABS board of directors. Christopher Wiernicki, who held all three top posts until McDonald’s election, will continue as chairman and chief executive.

Wiernicki was selected by Singapore-based shipbuilding group Seatrium to be its first visiting professor in an initiative to promote the energy transition and develop next-generation skills in Singapore, where ABS also launched a global electrification centre during 2023.

In a ground-breaking study, ABS modelled the transformational impact of nuclear propulsion on the design, operation and emissions of a 14,000 teu containership and a suezmax tanker in partnership with US-based ship designer Herbert Engineering.


Hiroaki Sakashita, ClassNK

03 / Hiroaki Sakashita, ClassNK

ClassNK president and chief executive Hiroaki Sakashita has reinforced the class society's commitment to supporting the industry in overcoming its critical challenges.

It has done so with the release of insightful analyses on the 2023 International Maritime Organization greenhouse gas strategy and the implementation of autonomous ships to sharpen the industry's future vision and stimulate discussions among stakeholders.

As immediate responses to the pressing issue of international and regional emissions regulations, ClassNK has provided practical tools and information to navigate the increasingly complex regulatory landscape.

Based on expertise gained through its collaboration with industry frontrunners, the society updated standards for forward-looking technologies such as wind propulsion, onboard carbon capture and hydrogen transport. 




Nick Brown, Lloyd’s Register

04 / Nick Brown, Lloyd’s Register

Chief executive of Lloyd’s Register Nick Brown was due to step down from his two-and-half-year term as chairman of the International Association of Classification Societies in December 2023, to be replaced by Rina’s Roberto Cazzulo. 

In 2023, LR acquired a 50% share of ISF Watchkeeper to augment its own OneOcean Digital Platform. This means LR’s digital solutions — which provide voyage compliance, planning, shipmanagement and vessel performance — are now used by more than half of the world’s Solas fleet.   

It is actively supporting maritime stakeholders assess the opportunities around the energy transition as the industry evaluates a multi-fuel future, with the 263-year-old class society being particularly active in supporting ammonia as a future fuel.

LR worked with the world largest boxship operator MSC for an ammonia-fuelled containership design and has given approval in principle to Wärtsilä for its two-stroke ammonia-fuel main engine.


Matthieu de Tugny, Bureau Veritas

05 / Matthieu de Tugny, Bureau Veritas

Bureau Veritas’s marine and offshore division continued to support shipping’s decarbonisation and digital agenda, alongside major new orders for many of the new sophisticated ships set to join the global fleet.

2023 saw BV issue a wide range of approvals in principle for decarbonisation-related technology and design initiatives, from liquefied natural gas dual-fuel very large crude carriers to fuel cells and floating hydrogen import facilities, as well as digital developments and cyber resilience tools.

One of the headline moments of 2023 saw BV take a stake in New York-based maritime software company OrbitMI. The company has started working with OrbitMI to address the immediate regulatory and decarbonisation requirements posed by the Carbon Intensity Indicator, EU Emissions Trading System, and the recently enacted FuelEU standards, as well as shipowners’ longer-term digital transformation journey.

Elsewhere, BV partnered with PSA unboXed, PSA International’s innovation and corporate venture capital arm, and Synergy Marine Group, with Zebox Asia Pacific, to drive sustainable development. 


Sun Feng, China Classification Society

06 / Sun Feng, China Classification Society

Since taking the helm of China Classification Society in 2022, Sun Feng has been steering the world’s sixth-largest class society towards greater innovation, as the Chinese shipbuilding industry has become increasingly more sophisticated and technology driven.

CCS has been on a mission to accelerate research into green and intelligent technology and is connecting more closely with the IACS and the IMO on maritime decarbonisation matters.

During 2023, CCS collaborated with Fujian Funing Shipbuilding Co to deliver China’s first battery-powered ferry and with Taizhou Maple Leaf Shipbuilding Co for an unmanned surface vessel, the first of its type to be built in China.


Hyung-chul Lee, Korean Register

07 / Hyung-chul Lee, Korean Register

Following his reappointment, Korean Register chairman and chief executive Hyung-chul Lee highlighted his determination to lead in two crucial areas: decarbonisation and digital transformation.

“KR’s connectivity with customers has been enhanced, and our technical services have been accelerated by advances in green energy and digital technology,” he said.

In line with this ambition, KR has vigorously undertaken collaborative projects with South Korean shipbuilders, shipowners and maritime organisations.

Meanwhile, KR has taken a significant step forward in decarbonisation, enabling a faster and easier response to strengthening regulations with its upgraded KR Gears, which it claims is the “ultimate” solution for greenhouse gas emissions data management.


Paolo Moretti, Rina

08 / Paolo Moretti, Rina

Paolo Moretti, chief executive of the maritime division of Italy’s Rina Services, believes lower-carbon fuels remain largely in the proposal stage and pose costly challenges.

He said carbon capture — particularly during the pre-combustion phase and paired with the production of hydrogen on board — is a readily available option, which could be applied “immediately and flawlessly”.

Rina has been working on emissions-reduction projects as well as digitally enabled operational improvements, with the company collaborating on the development of a small modular nuclear reactor for ships via a partnership that includes Italian shipbuilding group Fincantieri.

From January 2024, Rina’s secretary-general, Roberto Cazzulo, will take over the chairmanship of IACS from LR’s Nick Brown.


Arun Sharma, Indian Register of Shipping

09 / Arun Sharma, Indian Register of Shipping

Indian Register of Shipping provides lead classification for more than 1,000 merchant vessels of every vessel type, from very large crude carriers and gas carriers down to harbour tugs.

While it counts state-owned Shipping Corporation of India as a major client, IRS’s classed fleet includes a long list of vessels owned by international shipowners.

IRS is also closely involved in the expansion of India’s naval vessel fleet as the nation becomes increasingly important on the global stage.

As with other class societies, decarbonisation has become a priority and IRS has undertaken various research projects into alternative fuels, which include successful trials of biofuels and the development of new rules for ammonia and hydrogen-fuelled vessels.


 Henryk Śniegocki, Polish Register of Shipping10 / Henryk Śniegocki, Polish Register of Shipping
Perhaps best known for its significant research contributions to the IMO’s goal-based standards for the construction of bulk carriers, adopted in 2010, the Polish Register of Shipping is responsible for the classification of more than 400 vessels, with almost half of this number being made up of dry cargo carriers. Compatriot shipowner Polsteaam is its largest client.
Former Gdynia Maritime University professor and master mariner Henryk Śniegocki took over the presidency of PRS in 2021.
Śniegocki has a wealth of technical knowledge and has served in various senior academic positions.

Under Śniegocki, PRS has been expanding its services to provide the testing and regulation of Poland’s nascent offshore wind energy sector.  


The Top 10 classification societies ranking is based on gross tonnage of all types of vessels above 500 gt, including those provisionally classed, of members of the International Association of Classification Societies


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