Shipping routes (2012).

Maritime shipping and trade: a teaser

Maritime shipping carries 80% of the world’s trade by volume, or 70% by value. These are the routes over which empires have clashed, for which new islands are built out of sand banks, along which military bases are stationed, and over which enormous corporations compete.

This post is a teaser of an upcoming  short study on the subject. Here, you’ll find some interesting highlights and visuals.


Worldwide loaded maritime cargo totaled 10.7 billion tons (2017)

87% of the loaded maritime cargo is handled by only 20 of the world’s ports (9.3 billion tons out of 10.7 billion tons)


The world’s top container ports by volume of cargo (2016)

  1. Shanghai, China: 37.13 million twenty-foot equivalent units or TEU of volume
  2. Singapore: 30.90 million TEU
  3. Shenzhen, China: 23.97 million TEU
  4. Ningbo-Zhoushan, China: 21.60 million TEU
  5. Busan, South Korea: 19.85 million TEU
  6. Hong Kong, S.A.R., China: 19.81 million TEU
  7. Guangzhou Harbor, China: 18.85 million TEU
  8. Qingdao, China: 18.01 million TEU
  9. Jebel Ali, Dubai, United Arab Emirates: 15.73 million TEU
  10. Tianjin, China: 14.49 million TEU
  11. Port Klang, Malaysia: 13.20 million TEU
  12. Rotterdam, Netherlands: 12.38 million TEU
  13. Kaohsiung, Taiwan, China: 10.46 million TEU
  14. Antwerp, Belgium: 10.04 million TEU
  15. Dalian, China: 9.61 million TEU
  16. Xiamen, China: 9.61 million TEU
  17. Hamburg, Germany: 8.91 million TEU
  18. Los Angeles, USA: 8.86 million TEU
  19. Tanjung Pelepas, Malaysia: 8.28 million TEU
  20. Keihin Ports, Japan: 7.61 million TEU

Oil transport has taken a progressively smaller share of shipped products since the 1980s. Containerised shipping, meanwhile, is a relatively new form of carriage for the standardised shipment of large metal boxes. Various products are transported by container, such as garments and shoes. 

Container ship, CMA CGM Christophe Colomb.
Container ship. / Image: by Huhu Uet, CC BY 3.0 license.
International sea-borne trade.

Iron ore shipments make up the largest share of cargo, at 1.47 billion tons in 2017. China imports 70% percent of global supply. Australia is the single largest exporter of iron ore. Australia and Brazil together supply 85% of China’s imported iron ore.

Major East-West trade routes for containerised shipments (2018):

  1. Trans-Pacific  (Asia <> North America): 27.6 million TEU total of both directions
  2. Asia-Europe: 24.7 million TEU both directions
  3. North America to Northern Europe & Mediterranean: 8.1 million TEU both directions


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