Corona crisis – visible in global vessel activity yet?

in Updates, Trends by

We used FleetMon’s historical AIS data to investigate irregularities year-over-year regarding vessel activity and maritime traffic at the Chinese coast and other crucial waterways related to Coronavirus spreading. Part 1/2

  • Vessel activity at Chinese Coast drops every year around Lunar New Year
  • In 2020: the drop lasts 6 weeks instead of 2 to 3 weeks due to Corona crisis
  • FleetMon investigated on the vessel activity of principal waterways via historical AIS data
  • No Coronavirus-related reduction in global vessel activity visible yet

The Year 2020 will write history. The spread of the Coronavirus has become one of the biggest threats to the global economy and financial markets. The travel industry is already severely damaged, with airlines cutting flights and companies canceling all business trips. Key global logistics companies and all of the major airlines that transport cargo are under extreme financial stress. But what about the global maritime logistics industry? Maritime transport is essential to the world’s economy as over 90% of the world’s trade passes the sea route. Has the corona crisis left its mark on the world’s oceans yet? Is the impact of Coronavirus restrictions and measures visible in global maritime shipping activity tracking? While the virus continues to spread, we have been investigating using historical AIS data.

Investigation of vessel movements using historical AIS Data

We analyzed if the spreading of the pandemic already affects the vessel activity in crucial maritime trade routes. We used FleetMon’s historical AIS data to look for unusual tendencies regarding ship activity in the previous years. One could assume that possible effects first show up in China where the virus originated. For the analysis, we’ve looked at active vessels (having sent at least one unique AIS signal recently) at the Chinese Coast in 2020 and compared the average vessel activity per week with historical data of the last four years. We did the same with principal waterways worldwide to find adverse influences on global vessel activity since the Coronavirus outbreak. 

Coronavirus’s impact on Chinese vessel traffic?

The graph illustrates the average number of active vessels at the Chinese coast per week in year-over-year measured through AIS data.

The average number of active vessels at the Chinese coast per week in year-over-year measured through AIS data

When looking at the figures, it is evident that the Lunar New Year typically causes a drop in vessel activity in China each year. While the reduction of active vessels at the Chinese coast usually lasts 2 to 3 weeks until the shipping volume reaches normal levels again, it can be seen that in 2020 the activity curve differs significantly. The overall vessel activity at the Chinese coast did not increase after week four as expected but rather dropped further to a level of 50% compared to the vessel activity before Lunar New Year’s celebration.

In 2020, the expected drop in overall vessel activity amounted to 6 weeks, as if the Chinese New Year holidays lasted that long. This observation is an apparent anomaly to previous years’ vessel activity patterns, bringing us closer to understanding the real impact of Coronavirus on shipping volume. COVID19 related port and shipping restrictions and safety measures which became applicable in China are visible in a significant reduction of surrounding maritime traffic. The cause of the drop can be seen in a lower volume of the Chinese domestic vessel traffic rather than in a decreased number of intercontinental vessel activity.

At the time, when China no longer reported new infections,
shipping traffic recovered back to the base level.

What about global vessel traffic?

The potential impact of Corona related restrictions on maritime traffic volume fades when looking at other crucial worldwide shipping waterways. We used the same procedure in the Northern Atlantic Ocean and the Pacific Ocean to detect possibly Coronavirus induced anomalies in shipping activity. Both areas are essential to track intercontinental vessel traffic between, e.g., Europe and the USA or China and Europe. Panama Canal, Suez Canal, and the Strait of Gibraltar are the most important trade straits and are, therefore, in our scope as well. When analyzing the graphs, there was no significant decreasing trend in overall vessel activity evident.

Although the Pacific Ocean showed 25% less vessel activity than in the previous years, it is too early to interpret this as a trend. Our analysis of the Northern Atlantic Ocean area showed no irregular tendencies at all, concerning the average number of active vessels per week year-over-year. The Panama Canal and the Strait of Gibraltar even exhibited an all-time high of vessel activity compared to previous years. The Suez Canal also showed business as usual activity. But the shipping sector might react slow to live events and changes.

Many countries have not yet overcome the climax of the Corona crisis. At this stage of the crisis, it is too early to state explicit assertions rather than: we do not see any Coronavirus-related reduction in global vessel activity yet. But shipping activity is not the same as trading activity. According to the Copenhagen-based consultancy Sea-Intelligence, the number of Blank Sailings recently increased significantly on the main deep-sea trades. An investigation on Blank Sailings of commercial vessels via an extensive port call analysis year-over-year might bring new insights as well.

We will continue to update our blog post regularly on our mission to bring greater transparency to the maritime world. Part 2 soon to come…

It is unclear when the Corona crisis will be under control globally. Nevertheless, FleetMon will provide updates and new data on worldwide vessel activity developments.
Our historical AIS data could support you in understanding the big picture of the coherencies influencing global vessel traffic. If you are interested in more analytics, raw data, or specific data sets, please contact