The shipping industry is essential to the smooth functioning of the world economy, transporting around 85% of the world’s international trade in tonnage terms. So it comes as no surprise that ships are all over the world at any given time. However, the ability to identify ships’ positions by vessel tracking systems today means that one can be more precise than ever in breaking this down a little further…

Mapping It Out
The Clarksons SeaNet vessel tracking system shows latest ship positions recorded via AIS signal. A snapshot taken on 6th March 2018 reveals that 56,438 vessels in the fleet had emitted a signal in the previous three months, with a total tonnage of 1.26m GT. That’s 60% of all ships in the fleet and 96% of the tonnage.

The integration of the position data with defined geographic ‘global zones’ across the world helps us understand where the vessels were. As the graph shows, four zones accounted for the location of 59% of the vessel positions: East Asia (16.6%), SE Asia (16.5%), UK/Continent (13.5%) and Med/Black Sea (12.6%), and for 50% of the tonnage represented by the positions. East Coast North America and the Middle East are the other zones to make up the leading half-dozen.


A quick comparison of ‘Atlantic’ versus ‘Pacific’ zones (leaving the Middle East, East Africa, Indian Sub-Cont. and polar zones aside) also reveals some interesting results. In terms of ship numbers, the Atlantic led the Pacific with 45% compared to 41% of vessels’ positions, but in terms of tonnage the result was reversed, with the Pacific leading the Atlantic by 45% to 36%. And as one might expect, there was significant variation across the major volume vessel type sectors.

What Goes Where?
Bulkcarrier and containership locations were more ‘Pacific-centric’ than those of the overall fleet. 55% of bulker tonnage was in the Pacific and 50% of boxship tonnage. Oil tankers offered variation on this theme though, with 14% of tonnage in the Middle East and 12% of units in the East Coast North America zone. Alone amongst the major sectors, oil tankers were more heavily located in the Atlantic (38% of tonnage) than the Pacific (33%)

People And Places
More ‘niche’ sectors reveal different patterns again, particularly those concerned with the transportation of people. Despite expansion of the industry in Asia, 64% of cruise tonnage was in the Atlantic, 43% in the East Coast North America zone which includes the Caribbean. 71% of passenger ferry tonnage was in the Atlantic, with 66% in the UK/Cont. or Med. Variation between major owner nations’ fleets was also apparent. Unsurprisingly, the fleet of Greek owners, the great ‘cross-traders’, was well-spread, with 10 ‘zones’ home to more than 6% of tonnage, whilst the Chinese-owned fleet was, as one might expect, heavily focussed in Asia with 66% of tonnage (and 76% of ships) in East or SE Asia.

It all goes to show that whilst shipping is a global business, regional patterns are important, with distinct variation across ship types and owner groups. Happily, in the today’s world, vessel position data allows us to keep track.

Source: Hellenic Shipping News.