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Mapping shipping lanes: shipping traffic around the world
Every year, thousands of ships travel around the world, carrying everything from passengers to consumer goods like wheat and oil.
But how busy are global shipping routes and where are the main shipping routes of the world? This card by Adam Symington paints a macro picture of global maritime traffic highlighting the density of maritime traffic around the world.
It uses data from International Monetary Fund (IMF) in partnership with The World Bankunder the IMF’s Global Maritime Trade Monitoring System.
The data spans from January 2015 to February 2021 and includes five different vessel types: commercial vessels, fishing vessels, oil and gas tankers, passenger vessels and pleasure craft.
An overview of the main shipping lanes
If you look at the map, you will see distinct areas where traffic is heavily concentrated.
These high-density areas are the world’s main shipping routes. Syminton has provided enlarged visuals of these waterways in detail, so let’s get to it:
The Panama Canal is an artificial waterway that connects the Pacific and Atlantic oceans. For ships traveling from the east coast to the west coast of the United States, this route avoids the much more dangerous Cape Horn at the tip of South America or the Bering Strait in the Arctic, and reduces d about 8,000 nautical miles, or 21 days of travel. .
In 2021, approximately 516.7 million tons goods passed through the main waterway, according to Ricaurte Vasquez, administrator of the Panama Canal Authority.
Strait of Malacca
This sea passage is the fastest connector between the Pacific and Indian Oceans, winding through the Malay Peninsula and Sumatra. It is a narrow waterway – at its narrowest point the canal is lower than 3km wide. About 70,000 ships pass through this strait each year.
The Danish Strait
Connecting the North Sea to the Baltic Sea, the Danish strait comprises three channels: the Oresund, the Great Belt and the Little Belt.
The Danish Strait is known to be a major passageway for Russian oil exports – which, despite sanctions and boycotts against Russian oil, have remained strong throughout 2022 so far.
This 120-mile long man-made waterway crosses Egypt and connects the Mediterranean Sea to the Red Sea, saving ships traveling between Asia and Europe a long passage around Africa. More 20,600 ships have used the canal in 2021.
The canal made headlines last year after a 1,312-foot-long container ship called Ever Given got stuck in the canal for six days, causing a massive traffic jam and stranding billions of dollars of traded goods.
Strait of Hormuz
This 615-mile waterway connects the Persian Gulf and the Gulf of Oman and eventually empties into the Arabian Sea. In 2020, the canal transported approximately 18 million barrels of oil every day.
The English Channel
Located between England and France, the English Channel, 350 miles long, connects the North Sea to the Atlantic Ocean. Around 500 ships use the channel every day, making it one of the busiest shipping lanes in the world.
Some of Europe’s major rivers are also clearly visible in these visualizations, including the Thames in the UK, the Seine in France, and the Meuse (or Masse) flowing through Belgium and the Netherlands.
Impact of COVID-19 on shipping
Although these maps show six years of maritime traffic, it is important to remember that many sectors have been negatively affected by the global pandemic, and maritime trade has been no exception. In 2020, global sea shipments fell by 3.8% to 10.65 billion tons.
Although the decline was not as severe as expected and production is expected to continue growing through 2022, some regions are still feeling the effects of COVID-19-induced restrictions.
For example, in March 2022, shipping volume at the port of Shanghai came to a screeching halt due to strict lockdowns in Shanghai, triggered by an outbreak of COVID-19. Traffic was impacted for months, and as operations rebounded, maritime traffic in the area is always crowded.