Mapping Shipping Lanes: Maritime Traffic Around the World
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Mapping Shipping Lanes: Maritime Traffic Around the World

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this map visualizes maritime traffic around the world and highlights the world's shipping lanes.

Click to view a larger version of the map.

Mapping Shipping Lanes: Maritime Traffic Around the World

Each year, thousands of ships travel across the globe, transporting everything from passengers to consumer goods like wheat and oil.

But just how busy are global maritime routes, and where are the world’s major shipping lanes? This map by Adam Symington paints a macro picture of the world’s maritime traffic by highlighting marine traffic density around the world.

It uses data from the International Monetary Fund (IMF) in partnership with The World Bank, as part of IMF’s World Seaborne Trade Monitoring System.

Data spans from Jan 2015 to Feb 2021 and includes five different types of ships: commercial ships, fishing ships, oil & gas, passenger ships, and leisure vessels.

An Overview of Key Maritime Shipping Lanes

If you take a look at the map, you’ll spot some distinct areas where traffic is heavily concentrated.

These high-density areas are the world’s main shipping lanes. Syminton provided some zoomed-in visuals of these waterways in detail, so let’s dive in:

Panama Canal

Map of marine traffic density along the Panama Canal

The Panama Canal is a man-made waterway that connects the Pacific and Atlantic Oceans. For ships traveling from the east to west coast of the U.S., this route avoids the far more treacherous Cape Horn at the tip of South America or the Bering Strait in the Arctic, and shaves off roughly 8,000 nautical miles—or 21 days off their journey.

In 2021, approximately 516.7 million tons of goods passed through the major waterway, according to Ricaurte Vasquez, the Panama Canal Authority’s administrator.

Strait of Malacca

Map of marine traffic density along the Strait of Malacca

This marine passage is the fastest connector between the Pacific and Indian oceans, winding through the Malay Peninsula and Sumatra. It’s a slender waterway—at its narrowest point, the canal is less than 1.9 miles wide. Approximately 70,000 ships pass through this strait each year.

The Danish Straits

Map of marine traffic density along the Danish Straits

Connecting the North Sea with the Baltic Sea, the Danish Straits include three channels: the Oresund, the Great Belt and the Little Belt.

The Danish Straits are 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.

Suez Canal

Map of marine traffic density along the Suez Canal

This 120-mile-long artificial waterway runs through Egypt and connects the Mediterranean Sea to the Red Sea, saving ships traveling between Asia and Europe a long passage around Africa. Over 20,600 vessels traveled through the canal in 2021.

Last year, the canal made headlines after a 1,312-foot-long container ship called the Ever Given got stuck in the canal for six days, causing a massive traffic jam and halting billions of dollars worth of traded goods.

Strait of Hormuz

Map of marine traffic density along the Strait of Hormuz

This 615-mile waterway connects the Persian Gulf and the Gulf of Oman and ultimately drains into the Arabian Sea. In 2020, the canal transported approximately 18 million barrels of oil every day.

The English Channel

Map of marine traffic density along the English Channel

Located between England and France, the 350-mile-long English Channel links the North Sea to the Atlantic Ocean. Approximately 500 vessels travel through the channel each day, making it one of the world’s busiest shipping lanes.

Some of the major European rivers are also clearly visible in these visualizations, including the Thames in the UK, the Seine in France, and the Meuse (or Mass) that flows through Belgium and the Netherlands.

COVID-19’s Impact on Maritime Transport

Though these maps show six years worth of marine traffic, it’s important to remember that many sectors were negatively impacted by the global pandemic, and maritime trade was no exception. In 2020, global maritime shipments dropped by 3.8% to 10.65 billion tons.

While the drop wasn’t as severe as expected, and output is projected to keep growing throughout 2022, certain areas are still feeling the effects of COVID-19-induced restrictions.

For instance, in March 2022, shipping volume at the port of Shanghai screeched to a halt due to strict lockdowns in Shanghai, triggered by a COVID-19 outbreak. Traffic was impacted for months, and while operations have rebounded, marine traffic in the area is still congested.

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This article was published as a part of Visual Capitalist's Creator Program, which features data-driven visuals from some of our favorite Creators around the world.

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Charted: Tesla’s Unrivaled Profit Margins

This infographic compares Tesla’s impressive profit margins to various Western and Chinese competitors.

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Chart: Tesla’s Unrivaled Profit Margins

In January this year, Tesla made the surprising announcement that it would be cutting prices on its vehicles by as much as 20%.

While price cuts are not new in the automotive world, they are for Tesla. The company, which historically has been unable to keep up with demand, has seen its order backlog shrink from 476,000 units in July 2022, to 74,000 in December 2022.

This has been attributed to Tesla’s robust production growth, which saw 2022 production increase 41% over 2021 (from 930,422 to 1,313,851 units).

With the days of “endless” demand seemingly over, Tesla is going on the offensive by reducing its prices—a move that puts pressure on competitors, but has also angered existing owners.

Cranking up the Heat

Tesla’s price cuts are an attempt to protect its market share, but they’re not exactly the desperation move some media outlets have claimed them to be.

Recent data compiled by Reuters shows that Tesla’s margins are significantly higher than those of its rivals, both in terms of gross and net profit. Our graphic only illustrates the net figures, but gross profits are also included in the table below.

CompanyGross profit per carNet profit per car
🇺🇸 Tesla$15,653$9,574
🇺🇸 GM$3,818$2,150
🇨🇳 BYD$5,456$1,550
🇯🇵 Toyota$3,925$1,197
🇩🇪 VW$6,034$973
🇰🇷 Hyundai$5,362$927
🇺🇸 Ford$3,115-$762
🇨🇳 Xpeng$4,565-$11,735
🇨🇳 Nio$8,036-$19,141

Data from Q3 2022

Price cutting has its drawbacks, but one could argue that the benefits for Tesla are worth it based on this data—especially in a critical market like China.

Tesla has taken the nuclear option to bully the weaker, thin margin players off the table.
– Bill Russo, Automobility

In the case of Chinese EV startups Xpeng and Nio, net profits are non-existent, meaning it’s unlikely they’ll be able to match Tesla’s reductions in price. Both firms have reported year-on-year sales declines in January.

As for Tesla, Chinese media outlets have claimed that the firm received 30,000 orders within three days of its price cut announcement. Note that this hasn’t been officially confirmed by anyone within the company.

Tit for Tat

Ford made headlines recently for announcing its own price cuts on the Mustang Mach-E electric SUV. The model is a direct competitor to Tesla’s best-selling Model Y.

Chevrolet and Hyundai have also adjusted some of their EV prices in recent months, as listed in the following table.

ModelOld PriceNew PriceDiscount
Tesla Model Y Long Range$65,990$53,49018.9%
Chevrolet Bolt EUV 2023$33,500$27,20018.8%
Tesla Model Y Performance$69,990$56,99018.6%
Chevrolet Bolt 2023$31,600$26,50016.1%
Tesla Model 3 Performance$62,990$53,99014.3%
Hyundai Kona Electric 2022$37,390$34,0009.1%
Ford Mustang Mach-E GT Extended Range$69,900$64,0008.4%
Tesla Model 3 Long Range$46,990$43,9906.4%
Ford Mustang Mach-E Premium AWD$57,675$53,9956.4%
Ford Mustang Mach-E RWD Standard Range$46,900$46,0001.9%

Source: Observer (Feb 2023)

Volkswagen is a noteworthy player missing from this table. The company has been gaining ground on Tesla, especially in the European market.

We have a clear pricing strategy and are focusing on reliability. We trust in the strength of our products and brands.
– Oliver Blume, CEO, VW Group

This decision could hamper Volkswagen’s goal of becoming a dominant player in EVs, especially if more automakers join Tesla in cutting prices. For now, Tesla still holds a strong grip on the US market.

tesla US market share

Thanks, Elon

Recent Tesla buyers became outraged when the company announced it would be slashing prices on its cars. In China, buyers even staged protests at Tesla stores and delivery centers.

Recent buyers not only missed out on a better price, but their cars have effectively depreciated by the amount of the cut. This is a bitter turn of events, given Musk’s 2019 claims that a Tesla would be an appreciating asset.

I think the most profound thing is that if you buy a Tesla today, I believe you are buying an appreciating asset – not a depreciating asset.
– Elon Musk, CEO, Tesla

These comments were made in reference to Tesla’s full self-driving (FSD) capabilities, which Elon claimed would enable owners to turn their cars into robotaxis.

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