A coupled formulation based on the semi-analytical finite element technique is developed for composite shells conveying fluid. The structural finite element formulation is from Ramasamy and Ganesan (1998 Computers and Structures 70, 363-376), while the fluid part is modelled by the characteristic wave equation. The fluid part is modelled using a velocity potential formulation and the dynamic pressure acting on the walls is derived from Bernoulli's equation. Impermeability and dynamic condition are imposed on the fluidstructure interface. The finite element equations for the composite shell conveying fluid are validated using available results in the literature. A detailed parametric study is carried out for various boundary conditions as well as for different length-to-radius and radius-to-thickness ratios. © 2002 Elsevier Science Ltd. All rights reserved.