Connectivity Pattern of the World’s Major Maritime Bottlenecks

Connectivity Pattern of the World’s Major Maritime Bottlenecks

TEU figures are for 2015 and relate to the total container traffic of selected nearby ports interacting with the bottleneck. TI refers to transshipment incidence; the share of all the containers handled by the port system that are transshipped.

Bottlenecks of global maritime shipping have been for decades the object of geostrategic considerations as obligatory points of passage for global trade. The connectivity they provide is related to reducing maritime shipping distances for international trade and the convergence of shipping services. The setting of transshipment hubs, which is another form of connectivity, has been particularly active around major maritime bottlenecks. This usually involves feeder services towards smaller ports, relays connecting deep-sea services towards different maritime ranges, or interlining supporting different port of call configurations along a similar maritime range.

Through geographical and commercial considerations, the clustering of transshipment takes different forms for each of the following strategic bottlenecks (left to right):

  • Panama. The connectivity of the Panama Canal system involves three dimensions, the first being the connectivity offered by the canal itself, which was expanded in 2016 with a new set of locks. In addition, on each of the maritime facades of the canal (Pacific and Caribbean), transshipment activities have emerged, each supporting feeder services as well as offering relays along deep-sea services. This is particularly the case for the Caribbean, with a large share of transshipment being handled by Panama.
  • Gibraltar. The connectivity of Gibraltar is the outcome of its role as a bottleneck between the Mediterranean Sea and the North Atlantic, linking Europe / Asia routes and being at the intersection of West Africa / Europe routes as well. It thus represents a convenient location for relay forms of transshipment and subject to competition between the main transshipment hubs on its northern (Algeciras) and southern (Tanger Med) facades.
  • Oresund. The importance of Oresund is derived from the level of economic activity in the Baltic, which is a maritime dead-end and does not have ports generating enough volume to justify a variety of direct deep-sea services. Therefore, it is mostly covered by feeder services from Northern Range ports, notably Hamburg and Gdansk.
  • Suez. The growth of Europe / Asia trade routes has been supported by the connectivity offered by the Suez Canal. Transshipment has been particularly active on the Mediterranean facade since deep-sea services can be connected with feeder services towards Southern and Eastern European markets.
  • Hormuz. Like the Baltic, the Persian Gulf is a dead-end that does not generate enough container volumes to support a wide array of direct services. Large infrastructure investments enabled Dubai to become a major transshipment hub, acting as a connector along the Asia / Europe routes as well as feeder services to East Africa and South Asia.
  • Malacca. The Strait of Malacca is the world’s most important bottleneck. It is the main passage between the Pacific and Indian oceans, combining deep sea relay services and feeder services through Southeast Asia. The port of Singapore is the world’s most important transshipment hub, with competing hubs such as Tanjung Pelepas in proximity.