A global maritime freight transport system has been established since the late 19th century and expanded with containerization. It includes east-west and north-south routes and locations enabling interconnectivity between these systems of circulation, which main components include:
- Circum Equatorial Route. With the expansion of the Panama Canal, a relative parity exists for the first time between the Panama and Suez canals. In such a setting, maritime shipping companies may elect to establish circum-equatorial routes in both directions using high capacity (8,000 to 14,000 TEU) containerships. This high-frequency “conveyor belt” could support a significant share of global east-west freight movements in a cost-effective way. This does not imply a homogeneous service as several different configurations of ports of call are possible along this route, particularly if a 300 nautical miles deviation is considered. This enables different circum equatorial network configurations.
- North-South Connectors. These connectors reflect existing commercial relations, namely for raw materials (oil, minerals, agricultural goods), such as South America / North America, Africa / Europe, or Australia / Asia. For container shipping they are mostly based on the rationale that there is not enough volume to support transoceanic services, so cargo is collected/delivered along a latitudinal sequence of ports. This conventional network will be expanded with transshipment opportunities with the circum equatorial route.
- Transoceanic Connectors. Connect a series of ports along ranges of large oceanic masses. The three main transoceanic connectors are transpacific, Asia-Europe (through the Indian Ocean), and transatlantic. The industrialization of Asia (China in particular) has made Asia – Europe and the transpacific connectors particularly important. The emergence of a new connector in the Southern Hemisphere between the east coast of South America, the Cape of Good Hope, and Southeast Asia is also observed.
- Transshipment Markets. They connect regional port systems to transoceanic and circum equatorial routes, mainly through hub-and-spoke services. The intersection and relay functions between long-distance shipping services performed by those markets are also significant. The most important markets are Southeast Asia, the Mediterranean, and the Caribbean. They are referred to as markets because the transshipment function can be substituted for another port. Therefore, ports in a transshipment market are vying to attract port calls as this type of traffic is difficult to anchor. The development of circum equatorial routes is thus likely to expand the opportunities for transshipment.
- Polar Routes. Consider using circum-polar routes as shortcuts to link East Asia, Western Europe, and North America (both east and west coasts). Even if the distance advantages of these polar routes appear significant, they are subject to the uncertainties of climate change and niche market opportunities.