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Main Maritime Shipping Routes
There is potentially an infinite number of maritime shipping routes that can be used for commercial circulation, but the configuration of the global system is relatively simple. The main axis is a circum-equatorial corridor linking North America, Europe and Pacific Asia through the Suez Canal, the Strait of Malacca and the Panama Canal.
Maritime routes are a function of obligatory points of passage, which are strategic locations, of physical constraints (coasts, winds, marine currents, depth, reefs, ice) and of political borders. As a result, maritime routes draw arcs on the earth water surface as intercontinental maritime transportation tries to follow the great circle distance. Main shipping lanes are those supporting the most important commercial shipping flows servicing major markets. Secondary shipping lanes are mostly connectors between smaller markets.
In part due to physiography, geopolitics and trade specific locations play a strategic role in the global maritime network. They are labeled as strategic passages and can be classified into two main categories:
  • Primary passages are the most important since without them there would be limited cost effective maritime shipping alternatives which would seriously impair global trade. Among those are the Panama Canal, the Suez Canal, the Strait of Hormuz and the Strait of Malacca, which are key locations in the global trade of goods and commodities.
  • Secondary passages support maritime routes that have alternatives, but would still involve a notable detour. These include the Magellan Passage, the Dover Strait, the Sunda Strait and the Taiwan Strait.