The ocean is a big place, which makes it a pretty difficult thing to wrap our brains around.
It covers over 70% of the Earth’s surface, is home to millions of species of life, and it makes up 97% of all water on the planet. But, with this massive size and ubiquity also comes a significant challenge for humans interested in trade: it must be constantly traversed in order for us to move goods around.
As a result, millions of people hit the high seas each day to get cargo from one place to another. The vessels used range from tiny sailboats to massive oil tankers, some of which can get up to four football fields in length.
Every Ship at Sea
We previously posted an interactive map of shipping routes that used 250 million data points to show how boats moved across the ocean.
Today, in a similar vein, we highlight a website that tracks the world’s ships in real-time, providing a unique picture of what is happening at sea. Below is a screenshot from MarineTraffic and going there will allow you to see all major ships in real-time as they voyage around the Deep Blue Sea.
You may be wondering, does this really show every ship at sea?
Well, it might not catch your Uncle Steve’s sailboat off the coast of Florida, but this map will show all major commercial vessels. Any oil tanker, cargo vessel, cruise ship, or fishing boat can be spotted, and it makes for some interesting observations if you know where to look.
A Look at Oil Chokepoints
Upon loading the real-time map, the first thing we did was adjust the filters to only show oil tankers.
After all, we know that every day, about 18.5 million barrels transit through the Strait of Hormuz between Iran and Oman, and 16 million barrels go through the Strait of Malacca between Indonesia and Malaysia.
Here’s a screenshot of the Strait of Hormuz, showing only oil tankers. (Dots are tankers that are not moving, while arrows represent tankers that are currently on course.)
And here are the ships going through the Strait of Malacca, which at its narrowest point is only 1.7 miles (2.7 km) wide.
If you want to get oil from the Persian Gulf to the South China Sea, this strait is vital – otherwise a big ship must detour thousands of miles around the Indonesian islands of Sumatra and Java to find the next suitable waterway.
Coast of Somalia
Compare those above straits to the coast off of Somalia, where piracy and hydrocarbon theft are major concerns.
All is pretty quiet, aside from the one daring tanker that is about 500 miles (800 km) east of Mogadishu.
One other easy observation?
It’s the few passenger boats hanging around the Antarctic Peninsula – which is the part of the continent closest to Argentina and a destination for cruise ships.
If you have a chance, check out the live map for yourself and play around with the filters. It’s also interesting to see what’s happening in your local waters, as well.