Instability in the shipping industry in terms of cargo values and tons shipped cannot be separated from the major economic variables of production of manufactured goods and primary commodities. Shipping and shipbuilding industries also have a mutual dependence. Increased trade causes demand for tonnage; decreased trade means unutilized capacity. On the other hand, under-tonnaging and overtonnaging in relation to demand seems to be an industry characteristic, causing instability in freight rates. Tensions and uncooperative attitudes arise from competition between traditional maritime countries and organizations of major shipowners, and countries, many of them developing, and their shipowners and shippers seeking either to enter the industry or obtain fairer rates. Protectionism and politics play their parts in obstructing development of a better organization of international shipping. Within the shipping industry problems are generated by the instabilities in the commodities trades affecting cargoes. There are specific problems for tanker shipments of liquids, and for dry cargoes of which over 40% are bulk commodities.
The 1980s brought crisis to the industry. During 1982 the total tonnage laid-up reached a level which was three times that in 1981, and comprised about 7% of the world fleet.