The Greek-managed merchant fleet has retained its strength and competitiveness this year, increasing its capacity in spite of the ongoing global financial crisis, Ekathimerini.com newspaper reported on Monday. The capacity of the Greek-owned fleet expanded by 3% to 263,635,420 deadweight tons (dwt), against 256,174,041 dwt in 2011 and 242,802,092 dwt in 2010, according to a survey titled 2012 Greek Fleet Statistics published this week by financial analysts at Petrofin Research. This was despite the fact that the fleet has contracted by 137 vessels since October 2011, to 4,577 units. The average shipping capacity per vessel increased by 6%, while the average age went down to 14.7 years, thanks to investments by Greek shipowners in new ships. Lenders\' inability to continue funding all shipping companies - opting instead to only fund their big, reliable clients - has resulted in expansion for the big, financially robust firms at the expense of their smaller counterparts. Consequently, the 30 biggest shipping companies account for 52.6% of the whole of the Greek-owned fleet, up from 52% last year and 50.7% in 2010, according to Petrofin Research. In recent years, Greek shippers have opted for larger vessels. Ships with over 20,000 dwt capacity number 3,015 this month, against 2,982 in October 2011 and 2,823 in October 2010. Dry-bulk carriers are still the favorites among Greek shipowners, as those carrying at least 10,000 dwt number 1,727, while the figure for tankers is just 754 and container ships come to 243. Still, container ships have shown remarkable growth within the last 12 months, totaling 204 in October 2011. Ships in excess of 20,000 dwt number 1,693 dry bulkers, 740 tankers and 224 container ships. Overall shipping sector conditions are difficult, according to the report, with the exception of maritime oil drilling and liquefied natural gas transport. Ship transactions are down, the number of vessels going to the scrapyard has increased, while deliveries of newly built ships to their owners are gradually decreasing. \'\'This situation is expected to affect the course of the Greek-owned fleet as far as the number of ships is concerned in 2013 and 2014,\'\' the report claims. As far as the average age of ships of the Greek shipping fleet, the Petrofin Research study estimates that the pace of age reduction will slow down, as the positive impact of the rise in the rate of ships heading for scrapping will not come with a rise in the rate of entry of newly constructed vessels.