Vietnam's sea transport industry needs restructuring to become more competitive, said head of the Transport Ministry's Marine Department Nguyen Nhat.

He said that the restructuring process must start with diversifying the fleet.

Statistics from the department show that Vietnam has 600 sea shipping firms with over 1,800 vessels that have a total capacity of 7.4 million tonnes.

However, more than half of the ships are bulk carriers and other smaller ships, while there are only a few container ships, liquefied gas carriers and specialised vessels.

"The unreasonable structure of ship categories was the weakest point of Vietnam's fleet," said vice head of the Marine Department Bui Thien Thu.

Thu added that five sixths of the country's sea shipping firms were private, but accounted for only a quarter of the fleets' load capacity.

"The figures show that most of the firms are small," Thu said.

"It's difficult for Vietnamese sea transport firms to compete with foreign companies," he said.

The Vietnamese fleet can currently only deal with 15 percent of the market share, and foreign shipping companies take the rest.

Vietnamese ships carry goods overseas but mostly on routes to China and Southeast Asian countries, while foreign firms take major markets like Europe and America.

Thu said that about 40 foreign sea transport firms operating in Vietnam planned to cooperate with each other to raise their competitiveness.

Domestic firms are losing out at home as local importers and exporters usually prefer agreements with international shipping which their partners have the right to select.

Head of the Marine Department Nhat said that Vietnamese sea transport firms usually developed their fleets without long term visions or strategies, which resulted in ineffective business operations.

Nhat said that incentives were needed for local sea transport firms to invest in their fleet.

Besides restructuring the fleet, the Government should offer tax breaks for goods carried by Vietnamese ships, and connect exporters with shipping firms.

He said the Transport Minister had approved a plan to improve Vietnam's marine infrastructure by 2020.

It estimated that the country needs about 2 billion USD to upgrade seaport facilities that have hindered the development of Vietnam's sea transport sector.

Nhat said that the ministry expected private investors to look at developing these infrastructure projects.-VNA