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Logistics Glossary Major Sea Lanes and International Canals for Container Ships

Registration dateNOV 29, 2021

Cello Square Major Sea Lanes and International Canals for Container Ships
  1. 1)Sea Lanes for Container ships1)Sea Lanes for Container ships
    1. ① Sea Lane Definition

      Sea lanes are routes that ships regularly take across the sea.
      There are various types of sea lanes, from large sea lanes such as the trans-Pacific where ships can freely navigate wide waters, to narrow artificial routes made by dredging.
      Sea lanes are further classified according to their distance from the coast: sea lanes far from the coast are called marine routes while those closer to the coast are called coastal routes.
      The world's largest sea lane is the North Atlantic Route linking Europe and North America, which accounts for two-thirds of the world's ocean traffic. Other important routes include the South Atlantic Route, the North Pacific Route, the European-Asian Route, and the Arctic Route.

      Network of Major Sea Routes of the worlds Network of Major Sea Routes of the worlds (Source : International Maritime Organization (2018))
      *The LSCI is an index devised by the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD) that is a composite score that considers a total of five factors: ① the total number of container ships deployed in a country ② the total capacity of those vessels ③ the size of the largest ship used by the shipping lines in a country ④ the number of sea routes connecting a country to other countries ⑤ the number of shipping lines servicing a country.
    2. ② Major World Sea Lanes for Container Ships
      1. 2-1) The Atlantic Route
        • It is of the 3 main sea routes used in the North Atlantic, Africa, and South America (including via the Panama Canal). It maintains its position as the world's largest sea route.
          • The North Atlantic Route

            It is the world's first transoceanic route, which opened around 1840, and connects Western Europe to North America. It has the world's largest traffic volume, accounting for more than two-thirds of the world's total in terms of both the number of ships and cargo volume.

          • The South Atlantic Route

            It is a route connecting Western Europe to South America, with agricultural and livestock products such as wheat, meat, and wool from South America and industrial products from Europe being transported between the two continents.


      2. 2-2) The Pacific Route
        • The North Pacific Route

          There are two routes: the northern route passing near the Aleutian Islands and the southern route passing through Hawaii. In 1867, when the southern route was first opened, it took 22 days to go from Yokohama, Japan, to San Francisco, but now it takes 9 days for passenger ships, 13 days for cargo ships, and 11 days for timber and ore carrying ships. (9 days for container-only ships)


        • The South Pacific Route

          It is a route connecting the west coast of North America with countries in Oceania such as Australia and New Zealand via the Pacific Ocean. It has become more important with the expansion of the US economy. Using this route, wool, iron ore, machinery, and sugar from Australia, wool and hides from New Zealand, and machinery, automobiles, aircraft, steel, cotton fabrics, precision machinery, metal products, etc. from North America are transported between the nations along the route.


      3. 2-3) The European-Asian Route
        • It is a route that goes from Europe to East Asia via the Indian Ocean.
        • It was pioneered by Europeans from the 15th century and became the main artery for British colonial management in Asia from the 18th century to the Second World War. After the opening of the Suez Canal in 1869, the travel time and distance of the route was greatly reduced. After World War II, the tanker route from the Persian Gulf to Europe and Japan became more important as the demand for oil from the Middle East increased.
        • Recently, due to the increasing size of tankers, sometimes an alternate route via the Cape of Good Hope is used.

      4. 2-4) The Arctic Route
        The Arctic Route image The Arctic Route image
        • It is a route connecting Asia to Europe through the Arctic Ocean.
        • It is divided into the following: the Northwest Passage connecting North America to Europe in Canadian waters and the Northeast Passage connecting Asia to Europe in Russian waters.
        • The Arctic Route through the Arctic Ocean is shorter than the currently used route through the Suez Canal, so it has the advantage of significantly reducing the transit time and logistics costs. In particular, the transit time from Busan, Korea, to Northern Europe can be shortened by up to half by using this route.
        • As sea ice decreases due to global warming and icebreaking technology continues to be developed, use of the Arctic Route is expected to increase, and many countries around the world are actively developing the route.
        • Because countries such as Russia, Canada, and Norway have territorial sovereignty over different parts of the route, it is important to consult with the countries when passing through the route.
        • In the Arctic, the sea can be frozen even in summer, so ships need icebreakers, and in winter, they have to move at a slower speed. Specially designed vessels are required, and it is riskier because accurate data on routes and weather does not exist.
    3. ③ Major Shipping Characteristics of Routes Between Continents
      1. 3-1) Asia/North America Routes
        • It is the route with the largest container cargo volume. Shipping lines in the Far East usually operate around 20 lanes while those in other regions operate about 10 lanes.
        • Main items transported: electric/electronic products, clothing, shoes, automobiles, etc.

      2. 3-2) Asia/Europe Routes
        • A route boasting the second largest container cargo volume. Most of the shipping companies that regularly operate on this route have opened or operate in more than 10 lanes
        • Main items transported: In the East: chemicals, dairy products, machinery, etc.
          In the West: electric/electronic products, automobile parts, textiles, etc.

      3. 3-3) North America Routes
        • It is a route created by an agreement to solve the problem of the oversupply of ships. There are about 4 lanes in operation.
        • Main transport items: In the East: paper, timber, pulp, synthetic resin, etc.
          In the West: beer, beverages, paper, etc.

      4. 3-4) Asia/Latin America Routes
        • It is a route with relatively few international exchanges compared to other routes, and the cargo volume varies greatly depending on the season.

      5. 3-5) Asia/Oceania, Middle East, Far East Routes
        • Most shipping lines have opened or operate in about 20 lanes.
        • Main items transported: In the South: automobile parts, textiles, electric products, etc.
          In the North: meat, hides, non-ferrous metals, etc.
  2. 2)International Canals2)International Canals
    1. ① International Canal Definition

      A canal whose operation is regulated by international treaties so that it is available for use by countries other than the coastal state the canal is located in. Canals are usually under the exclusive control of the coastal states they are located in because the states have territorial sovereignty over the waters of the canals, but international canals guarantee the right of free navigation for ships from other countries. Examples of international canals include the Suez Canal and the Panama Canal.

    2. ② Major World Canals
      1. 2-1) Panama Canal (Canal de Panama)
        Panama Canal Panama Canal

        The Panama Canal, located between the continents of North America and South America, is an artificial waterway connecting two oceans. It crosses the Isthmus of Panama and connects the Pacific Ocean to the Atlantic Ocean (Caribbean Sea). It is a representative example of a lock-type canal* and was completed on August 15, 1914 with 12 gates, a total length of 64 km, and a width of 150 meters.

        *Lock-type Canal (Throttle Canal):
        It is a type of canal that connects oceans to oceans or rivers to rivers with different water levels. A lock gate is installed in the canal, and the water level is raised or lowered by opening or closing the gate to allow ships to pass through.

        Ships from the United States can use the Panama Canal to travel between the Pacific and Atlantic oceans and reduce the travel distance by about 15,000 km compared to going around South America. The average transit time is about 8 hours to pass through the canal, but due to waiting times and authorization procedures, about 15 to 20 hours may be required to pass through the canal. The average annual number of vessels that use the Panama Canal is 15,000.

        As ships gradually became larger, an expansion of the canal was started in 2007 and was completed in 2016. The new expansion was opened at the end of June 2016. The expanded canal can theoretically accommodate ships up to 51 m wide and container ships with cargo capacities up to 14,000 TEU. In addition, the height limit for vessels was relaxed through the extension of the Bayonne Bridge. Neopanamax ships are larger than the previous Panamax ships. Neopanamax refers to the largest ship size that can pass through the expanded Panama Canal. By early 2018, the total number of Neopanamax ships that used the expanded Panama Canal exceeded 3,000. The reason for the increase in the number of ships using the Panama Canal is that the expansion of the Panama Canal has doubled the canal’s capacity.


      2. 2-2) Suez Canal
        Suez Canal Suez Canal

        The Suez Canal is called the connecting canal of the Maritime Silk Road. The Suez Canal, which connects the Mediterranean Sea to the Red Sea and the Indian Ocean, is a canal of historical importance because it connects Europe to Asia on the Maritime Silk Road and greatly shortens the distance. With its opening on November 17, 1869, the London-Singapore route was shortened from 24,500 km to 15,027 km because ships did not need to pass by Cape Town while the London-Mumbai route was shortened from 21,400 km to 11,472 km. Due to its dominating position among trade routes between Europe and Asia, the Suez Canal reflects the trends of the global economy very sensitively and plays a very important role in the international economy.
        After the development of the oil fields along the Arabian Gulf, the proportion of oil among transported items dramatically increased and tankers grew in size, which led to efforts to expand the Suez Canal to enable the passage of 300,000-ton tankers. It is estimated that about 7% of global shipping volume is still moving through this canal.
        The 2nd Suez Canal was constructed within a 72-km section of the existing Suez Canal (190.3 km in total length) connecting the Mediterranean Sea to the Red Sea. The project entailed building a new 35-km waterway alongside the existing canal and widening and deepening of 37 km of the existing canal to allow for a second shipping lane. The new canal makes two-way traffic possible, which speeds up the passage of ships.


      3. 2-3) Corinth Canal
        Corinth Canal Corinth Canal (Source: pixabay)

        The Corinth Canal is a canal that flows through the isthmus between mainland Greece and the Peloponnesian Peninsula. It has a length of 6.3 km, a width of 21 m at the bottom and 25 m at sea level, and a depth of 7 m.
        There are no locks because the water level remains constant throughout the canal, but caution is required for navigation even with slight currents. Since the walls of the canal is limestone, there is a risk of the walls collapsing from the engine vibrations of large ships, so if a large ship wants to pass, the large ship turns off its engine and is towed through the canal by a smaller ship with ropes. Due to the narrow width of the canal, the canal is currently used more by smaller recreational and tourist ships than cargo ships. However, the canal still greatly contributes to east-west sea traffic in Greece.