The world’s trading system relies on shipping routes to keep it moving. They are the arteries which carry the lifeblood of container ships loaded with goods around the world, and any disruption to the busiest routes can cause days or weeks of backlogs. However, some shipping routes are much busier than others.
This is down to several factors. One is simply that demand for the volume of trade between certain countries and ports is much higher than at others. Developed economies in North America and Europe tend to have much higher import and export levels than other regions of the world, for example.
Sometimes the geography of the shipping route determines the volume of traffic. For example, the Suez Canal which links the Atlantic and the Indian Ocean, is always busy because it cuts out a long journey of up to 24 days around the Cape of Good Hope at the southern tip of Africa.
Some routes are just the quickest and most direct way between two ports, and some are dictated by currents, tides, and coastal reefs. Here is a look at the five busiest shipping routes in the world.
The English Channel, which lies between France and the UK, is the busiest sea route in the world, and the Dover Strait is the busiest shipping lane in the world. More than 500 ships pass through the channel daily. It is 350 miles long, and its width varies between 150 miles at the widest point, to 21 miles at the narrowest point.
The Strait of Malacca is located between the east coast of Indonesia and the coast of the Malay peninsula. It is the shortest shipping route between the Pacific and the Indian Ocean. It is 550 miles long and links to the strait of Singapore. It is a narrow strait, just 3km wide at the narrowest point. Over 70,000 vessels pass through the straits every year.
The Panama Canal is an artificial waterway which was built between 1904 and 1914. It is 51 miles long, and it divides North and South America. It also connects the Atlantic Ocean with the Pacific Ocean, cutting out a lengthy journey of up to two months around the tip of South America. About 14,000 ships pass through the canal each year.
The Suez Canal in Egypt is the shortest sea route between the Atlantic and the Indian Ocean. Between 50 to 100 vessels pass through the canal each day. It is very narrow and can only accommodate one way traffic, so any blockages can cause major tailbacks, as was demonstrated when the Ever Given became stranded last year.
The Danish Straits are a group of small straits which connect the Baltic Sea and the North Sea. The Great Belt and Little Belt are Danish territorial waters, while the Øresund and the Fehmarn Belt are shared with Sweden and Germany. They are all open to international shipping, and are important for trade between Russia and Europe.
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