Spotlight on the busiest shipping routes >> Scuttlebutt Sailing News

Despite all the navigational support, large vessels and poor visibility remain a concern. To minimize risk, avoid these busiest shipping routes around the world:


1. Asia-USA
The Panama Canal was originally completed in 1914 and had a wider lock track built between September 2007 and May 2016.

The expanded waterway began commercial operations in June 2016. The new and improved locks crucially allow the transit of larger Panamax vessels. The Panama Canal facilitates major trade between Asia and the United States, with Asia and the East Coast of the United States being its busiest trade route.

Without the canal, ships would have to round Cape Horn and the southern tip of South America. The Panama Canal carried 259,837,318 metric tons of goods, including coal, grains, minerals, metals, crude oil, fuels and chemicals, through 12,245 transits in 2020.

2. Asia – Europe
The Suez Canal is the fastest and most direct trade link between Asia and Europe.

It is also a crucial regional hub for transporting oil and hydrocarbons from Asia and the Middle East to Europe. The waterway is responsible for transporting around 7-8% of the world’s oil and 8% of liquefied natural gas.

Last year, the now infamous 20,124 teu container ship Ever Given was stuck in the Suez Canal for six days while sailing from Tanjung Pelepas to Rotterdam.

3. Europe – United Kingdom
The English Channel, which is an arm of the Atlantic Ocean that separates southern England from northern France and connects the southern part of the North Sea through the Strait of Dover at its northeast end, is the area busiest navigation in the world with more than 500 ships passing through each day.

Following an accident in the English Channel in January 1971 and a series of collisions with wreckage, the Dover TSS – the world’s first radar-controlled traffic separation system – was implemented by IMO .

Around 22% of UK imports from the EU and 30% of UK exports to the EU pass through the Strait of Dover. The shortest distance across the strait is only 20 miles. However, in recent months there have been significant delays at Dover due to security issues with consumer ferries and IT system issues.

4. North America-Canada
The St. Lawrence Seaway facilitates navigation between US and Canadian waters.

The system of locks, canals and channels makes it an integral part of American and Canadian international trade. From Lake Ontario in Canada, it stretches 1900 miles to New York, serving major Canadian and US ports including Ontario, Illinois, Michigan, Minnesota, Ohio, Vermont and Wisconsin.

The seaway handles 40 to 50 million tons of cargo annually, including iron ore, grain, mining products, liquid bulk energy products, dry bulk cargo and general cargo. The US Army Corps of Engineers conducted a study to expand the St. Lawrence Seaway, but the plan was scrapped in 2011 due to budget constraints.

5. Intra-Asia
The Strait of Malacca is a narrow stretch of water, only 580 miles long, between the Malay Peninsula and the Indonesian island of Sumatra. It is the main shipping channel between the Indian and Pacific oceans and as such one of the most important and busiest shipping lanes in the world. The Strait of Malacca connects three of Asia’s largest economies: India, China and Japan. It also plays a fundamental role in connecting Thailand, Indonesia, Malaysia, Philippines, Singapore, Vietnam, Taiwan and South Korea.

The strait sees a quarter of the world’s maritime trade, handling around 50,000 ships a year. However, the draft of some of the largest ships in the world exceeds the minimum depth of the strait of 25 meters.

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