Trade and Investment

You've got no idea about the scale of global shipping, but this map will change that

A ship is loaded with containers at Sydney's Port Botany container terminal March 4, 2013. Australia's trade deficit shrank by much more than expected in February to its smallest in 14 months thanks to higher prices for resource exports, a likely boost to profits and incomes that also gave the local dollar a lift. Wednesday's figures from the Australian Bureau of Statistics showed exports climbed 3.3 percent overall to a seasonally adjusted A$25.64 billion, the highest total in eight months. Earnings from farm goods, coal, metals and iron ore all increase in the month thanks in part to rising prices. Picture taken March 4, 2013. REUTERS/David Gray

Image: REUTERS/David Gray

Joe Myers
Writer, Forum Agenda
Our Impact
What's the World Economic Forum doing to accelerate action on Trade and Investment?
The Big Picture
Explore and monitor how Trade and Investment is affecting economies, industries and global issues
A hand holding a looking glass by a lake
Crowdsource Innovation
Get involved with our crowdsourced digital platform to deliver impact at scale
Stay up to date:

Trade and Investment

If you’ve ever doubted the scale of shipping around the world, here are 250 million things that will convince you of its sheer size.

Commercial shipping is vital to the movement of goods around the world, and a cornerstone of global trade. As this map from Kiln, a data visualization company, highlights, its complexity and size should not be underestimated.

The company says the map contains some 250 million data points. These cover the movements of the global merchant fleet in 2012, as well as other figures, such as the amount of CO2 emitted and the maximum freight carried by the ships.

 2012 global shipping routes mapped
Image: Kiln

You can view the full interactive map here.

What am I seeing?

The dots represent the entire movements of the global merchant fleet over the course of 2012. Major global shipping lanes are clear, with high densities of ships seen around Europe as well as the Far East. You can also adjust the map to highlight the different types of ship or show major ports and routes around the world.

 2012 global shipping with major ports
Image: Kiln

Although some ships appear to be moving across the land, the map’s creators explain that these are major rivers or canals, which may not be immediately clear on the map.

The map also offers a rising count in goods across the year, as they are shipped around the world.

Why is it significant?

The similarity of the shipping lanes to blood vessels is an apt metaphor for the role of shipping in global trade. According to the International Chamber of Shipping, around 90% of world trade is carried by ships.

As the World Economic Forum’s E15 Initiative has highlighted, effective global trade is “crucial for reinvigorating economic growth and confronting 21st century global challenges”. In a globalized world, shipping is a vital part of an effective trade network.

So, while the scale and complexity of the global shipping industry is made clear by the map, its importance should also not be forgotten.

 2012 global shipping
Image: Kiln

Have you read?

Don't miss any update on this topic

Create a free account and access your personalized content collection with our latest publications and analyses.

Sign up for free

License and Republishing

World Economic Forum articles may be republished in accordance with the Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International Public License, and in accordance with our Terms of Use.

The views expressed in this article are those of the author alone and not the World Economic Forum.

Related topics:
Trade and InvestmentSupply Chains and Transportation
World Economic Forum logo
Global Agenda

The Agenda Weekly

A weekly update of the most important issues driving the global agenda

Subscribe today

You can unsubscribe at any time using the link in our emails. For more details, review our privacy policy.

IDEA: Investing in the Digital Economy of Azerbaijan

Sebastian Klotz, Steve Barr and Jimena Sotelo

June 6, 2024

About Us



Partners & Members

  • Join Us

Language Editions

Privacy Policy & Terms of Service

© 2024 World Economic Forum