Sailing the oceans, seas, bays and passages allowed us to transport goods to all parts of the world. Oceans (Pacific, Atlantic and the Indian Ocean) and seas where merchant ships' are setting the sail cover 71% of the globe.
Maritime routes are used daily by tens of thousands of ships of all sizes, which is of extraordinary significance for world trade.
To understand today’s major sea routes, you need to know a little more about how the raw materials, semi-finished products and finished products are being transported.
Maritime routes are the routes by which ships sail across the world's seas. These are canals several kilometers wide, defined by mandatory passage points (capes, straits, canals), physical constraints (current velocity, depth, presence of reefs) and geopolitical contexts.
The busiest maritime routes connect the areas of production and consumption.
Maritime regulations are designed to allow economic freedom to all shipowners and charterers to transport goods to their intended destination freely.
Ocean shipping services transport more than 80% of all products traded globally. Maritime affairs are crucial to enable successful international trade and the world to go round.
Most of the products we use, like clothes, vehicles to electronic devices, probably come from other countries like China, Japan, United Kingdom and Germany.
Maritime trade routes have been established on the high seas (oceans), coastal and inland waterway areas. They are essential for transporting passengers and cargo between two or more ports (from the port of departure to the final port of destination).
The establishment of these routes has helped in the development of some coastal countries located near sea lanes. A good example is Singapore's port, which has developed into an important trading center and has the best results in cargo transshipment.
From the maritime area of the Atlantic, Pacific, Indian Ocean, through Europe, North and South America, Asia (North and East, Japan and China), Africa, all the way to the Middle East, Central Asia and Russia and Australia and Oceania, maritime trade and its routes are spread all over the globe.
70% of the world's most important ports are located in China. The main trade routes are located in the Asian continent, making China a critical country for international trade and logistics.
In this blog post, we bring a brief overview of the world's major trade routes, not a complete picture of their totality.
The busiest and most popular sea routes
Natural and artificial waterways have a significant profit from international trade, enabling fast sailing times, timely delivery of goods, more straightforward, safer and cost-effective way of transporting goods.
There are many maritime routes used in commercial traffic, but the scheme of the global system is quite simple.
The central axis is the transport corridor that connects North America, Europe and Pacific Asia via the Suez Canal, the Malay Pass and the Panama Canal. These routes support most traffic, but there are several other routes, depending on the start and destination location of the shipment.
Various physical constraints (coasts, winds, sea currents, depths, reefs, ice) and political boundaries play an important role in shaping maritime routes.
The main routes are those that support the most important commercial shipping flows serving the major markets. Secondary routes are mostly links between smaller markets.
The main routes are the most important. Without them, there would be limited alternative maritime transport options, which would severely disrupt world trade. Among them are the Panama Canal, the Suez Canal, the Strait of Hormuz and the Malay Strait, critical places in the global trade in goods and commodities.
What are the major ocean traffic routes that play a significant role in global trade?
The Panama Canal is an artificial waterway owned by the Republic of Panama. It is designed to reduce transit time for vessels traveling between the Pacific and Atlantic Oceans.
It stretches for 83 kilometers from the Atlantic on Cristobal to the Pacific at Balboa, through a mountain gorge. It is about 50 miles long (80.4672 km), 10 miles wide (16.09344 km), and the trip through it lasts for about 10 hours.
Every year, more than 14,000 ships sail the Panama Canal, transporting vegetable oil and fats, canned and refrigerated food, chemicals and petroleum chemicals, wood, machinery parts and cereals.
Malacca Strait is the shortest route between the Pacific and Indian Oceans. It is about 800 km long and between 50 and 300 km wide, but it is only about 2.8 km wide at its narrowest point. It connects major Asian economies such as India, Indonesia, Malaysia, Singapore, China, Japan, Taiwan and South Korea.
Seen from an economic and strategic perspective, the Malacca Strait is one of the most important and busiest waterways through which more than 83,000 vessels pass annually. Most goods transported through this strait include coal, palm oil, Indonesian coffee, and liquefied natural gas.
The Bosporus Strait is a famous traffic line connecting the Sea of Marmara to the Black Sea.
It is the border between Asia and Europe crucial for military and oil trade. Turkey has had control of the Bosphorus since 1936.
More than 132 vessels sail through the Bosporus daily, which accounts for 48,000 vessels a year. Passing ships include cargo ships, chemical tankers, containers, cattle ships, and gas carriers. Due to the width and length of the passage, there are restrictions for certain vessels.
The Danish Strait is a sea passage composed of three canals - the Øresund, the Great and Small Belts, which connect the Kattegat and the Skagerrak (North Sea) with the Baltic Sea.
The Great Belt is the most extensive canal and is the primary passage for large vessels. These canals helped Denmark develop into a respected naval power in the northern part of Europe.
The Danish Strait is an international waterway crucial for the transportation of oil between Russia and Europe.
The Suez Canal is an artificial sea-level waterway (163 kilometers long) between the Mediterranean and the Red Sea. It is one of the most important shipping lanes in the world. It plays a crucial role in connecting the Indian Ocean with the Atlantic Ocean.
To cross the canal, it takes about 15 hours. The transit fee for the right of passage is quite high, bringing Egypt over five billion dollars in revenue annually.
It is considered one of the most important maritime routes globally and is visited by more than 100 vessels every day. The essential goods transported are oil, coal, metals, wood, oilseeds, cement and fertilizers.
If it were not for the Suez Canal; ships would have to tour the African Cape of Good Hope, so the voyage and transport of goods would be extended to 24 days, compared to 15 hours trip through the canal.
For example, the Suez Canal reduced transportation time to Singapore by 30%, and from Rotterdam to Mumbai by 42%.
The English Channel or La Manche is one of the busiest shipping lanes in the world and has been used since the 17th century. The canal separates the south coast of England from France and connects the North Sea and the Atlantic Ocean.
The English Channel is the main sea transport route between the Atlantic and Northern Europe. A quarter of the world's maritime traffic passes through it, and about 500 ships sail through the canal daily.
The Strait of Dover is the narrowest part of the English Channel. Most maritime traffic between the Atlantic Ocean and the North Sea and Baltic Sea passes through this strait. Four hundred vessels pass through it every day, transporting products such as grain, minerals, steel and oil. Over the centuries, the Channel has played a significant role in the emergence of modern Europe's nation-states.
Strait of Hormuz
The Strait of Hormuz plays a central role in connecting the Gulf of Oman with the Persian Gulf. It consists of two lanes that allow inbound and outbound traffic. When it comes to oil transport, the Strait of Hormuz is one of the world's most important strategic points.
Ships transport about 30-40% of the world's total oil consumption through it. The oil transported by this strait is supplied mainly to Asian markets such as China, Japan, India, South Korea, and Singapore, but also Western Europe and the United States.
The maritime importance of the Strait of Hormuz is evidenced by the fact that 65% of the oil imported in Western Europe is through this strait, as well as 70% of the total consumption of Japan and 30% of the total US oil imports.
The Saint Lawrence Waterway is the most important shipping route in North America. This way, ocean-going ships can sail directly to the Great Lakes from the Atlantic Ocean, and the system is formed to create the world’s most extended deep-water raft navigation system. The Saint Lawrence Seaway was opened in 1954.
Since then, more than 2.5 billion tons of cargo have passed through this sea route from 50 different countries, and about 40 million tons of cargo pass through it annually. The journey from the Atlantic Ocean to Duluth, Minnesota, and the Great Lakes takes approximately eight and a half days.
All of these routes are bustling areas and are created to save time and fuel costs.
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