Mapping Shipping Lanes: Maritime Traffic Around the World
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:
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
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
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.
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
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
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.
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.
Charting the Rise of America’s Debt Ceiling
By June 1, a debt ceiling agreement must be finalized. The U.S. could default if politicians fail to act—causing many stark consequences.
Charting the Rise of America’s Debt Ceiling
Every few years the debt ceiling standoff puts the credit of the U.S. at risk.
In January, the $31.4 trillion debt limit—the amount of debt the U.S. government can hold—was reached. That means U.S. cash reserves could be exhausted by June 1 according to Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen. Should Republicans and Democrats fail to act, the U.S. could default on its debt, causing harmful effects across the financial system.
The above graphic shows the sharp rise in the debt ceiling in recent years, pulling data from various sources including the World Bank, U.S. Department of Treasury, and Congressional Research Service.
Raising the debt ceiling is nothing new. Since 1960, it’s been raised 78 times.
In the 2023 version of the debate, Republican House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy is asking for cuts in government spending. However, President Joe Biden argues that the debt ceiling should be increased without any strings attached. Adding to this, the sharp uptick in interest rates have been a clear reminder that rising debt levels can be precarious.
Consider that historically, interest payments on the U.S. debt have been equal to about half the cost of defense. More recently, however, the cost of servicing the debt has risen, and is now almost on par with the defense budget as a whole.
Key Moments In Recent History
Over history, raising the debt ceiling has often been a typical process for Congress.
Unlike today, agreements to raise the debt ceiling were often negotiated faster. Increased political polarization over recent years has contributed to standoffs with damaging consequences.
For instance, in 2011, an agreement was made just days before the deadline. As a result, S&P downgraded the U.S. credit rating from AAA to AA+ for the first time ever. This delay cost an estimated $1.3 billion in extra costs to the government that year.
Before then, the government shut down twice between 1995 and 1996 as President Bill Clinton and Republican House Speaker Newt Gingrich went head-to-head. Over a million government workers were furloughed for a week in late November 1995 before the debt limit was raised.
What Happens Now?
Today, Republicans and Democrats have less than two weeks to reach an agreement.
If Congress doesn’t make a deal the result would be that the government can’t pay its bills by taking on new debt. Payment for federal workers would be suspended, certain pension payments would get stalled, and interest payments on Treasuries would be delayed. The U.S. would default under these conditions.
Three Potential Consequences
Here are some of the potential knock-on effects if the debt ceiling isn’t raised by June 1, 2023:
1. Higher Interest Rates
Typically investors require higher interest payments as the risk of their debt holdings increase.
If the U.S. fails to pay interest payments on its debt and gets a credit downgrade, these interest payments would likely rise higher. This would impact the U.S. government’s interest payments and the cost of borrowing for businesses and households.
High interest rates can slow economic growth since it disincentivizes spending and taking on new debt. We can see in the chart below that a gloomier economic picture has already been anticipated, showing its highest probability since 1983.
Historically, recessions have increased U.S. deficit spending as tax receipts fall and there is less income to help fund government activities. Additional fiscal stimulus spending can also exacerbate any budget imbalance.
Finally, higher interest rates could spell more trouble for the banking sector, which is already on edge after the collapse of Silicon Valley Bank and Signature Bank.
A rise in interest rates would push down the value of outstanding bonds, which banks hold as capital reserves. This makes it even more challenging to cover deposits, which could further increase uncertainty in the banking industry.
2. Eroding International Credibility
As the world’s reserve currency, any default on U.S. Treasuries would rattle global markets.
If its role as an ultra safe asset is undermined, a chain reaction of negative consequences could spread throughout the global financial system. Often Treasuries are held as collateral. If these debt payments fail to get paid to investors, prices would plummet, demand could crater, and global investors may shift investment elsewhere.
Investors are factoring in the risk of the U.S. not paying its bondholders.
As we can see this in the chart below, U.S. one-year credit default swap (CDS) spreads are much higher than other nations. These CDS instruments, quoted in spreads, offer insurance in the event that the U.S. defaults. The wider the spread, the greater the expected risk that the bondholder won’t be paid.
The US now has higher credit risk than Mexico, Greece, and Brazil pic.twitter.com/je4klBvHZ6
— Genevieve Roch-Decter, CFA (@GRDecter) May 11, 2023
Additionally, a default could add fuel to the perception of global de-dollarization. Since 2001, the USD has slipped from 73% to 58% of global reserves.
Since Russia’s invasion of Ukraine led to steep financial sanctions, China and India are increasingly using their currencies for trade settlement. President of Russia Vladimir Putin says that two-thirds of trade is settled in yuan or roubles. Recently, China has also entered non-dollar agreements with Brazil and Kazakhstan.
3. Financial Sector Turmoil
Back at home, a debt default would hurt investor confidence in the U.S. economy. Coupled with already higher interest rates impacting costs, financial markets could see added strain. Lower investor demand could depress stock prices.
Is the Debt Ceiling Concept Flawed?
Today, U.S. government debt stands at 129% of GDP.
The annualized cost of servicing this debt has jumped an estimated 90% compared to 2011, driven by increasing debt and higher interest rates.
Some economists argue that the debt ceiling helps keep the government more fiscally responsible. Others suggest that it’s structured poorly, and that if the government approves a level of spending in its budget, that debt ceiling increases should come more automatically.
In fact, it’s worth noting that the U.S. is one of the few countries worldwide with a debt ceiling.
Urbanization2 weeks ago
Ranked: The World’s Biggest Steel Producers, by Country
Travel4 weeks ago
Visualized: The World’s Busiest Airports, by Passenger Count
Visual Capitalist2 weeks ago
Join Us For Data Creator Con 2023
AI4 weeks ago
Visualizing Global Attitudes Towards AI
Money2 weeks ago
Charted: Public Trust in the Federal Reserve
Visual Capitalist4 weeks ago
Calling All Data Storytellers to Enter our Creator Program Challenge
Technology2 weeks ago
Ranked: The World’s Top 25 Websites in 2023
Cities3 weeks ago
Ranked: Top 10 Cities Where International Travelers Spend the Most