Increased vessel traffic around Southern Africa due to Suez Canal closure

It’s strange when something that you’re involved with day to day ends up in the public attention. A few days ago the MV Ever Given got itself stuck in one of the worlds most important shipping canals. How this happened and the knock on effects are going to be analysed and discussed for the next couple of weeks.

One of the possible events that might happen due to the closure of the Suez canal is vessels redirecting to travel past Southern Africa. Whether or not this happens will depend on hundreds of shipping specialists furiously throwing numbers at spreadsheets. This isn’t like when you see a traffic jam on your way to work and decide to quickly dart down a side street, redirecting  a vessel to a non-optimal route will cost shipping companies massively in fuel costs, delayed shipments, insurance etc etc.

Let’s take a look at shipping around Southern Africa and define the region of interest fairly arbitrarily as a box of 0 Degrees Longitude to 50 Degrees East, 10 Degrees South to 50 Degrees South:

AIS would provide one method of determining the number of daily unique vessels in this region. It’s fairly easy to write some SQL to pull this data aggregate out of the MarcoSouth Vessel tracking database but looking at time periods too short would hide large scale trends. You’re also going to need to filter out things like fishing vessels, tug boats, military vessels etc since they’re generally region based and shouldn’t be too affected by a canal closure half the world away.

So once a region is defined, vessels are defined and a date range given we can get an indication of shipping activity by doing a simple count of vessels that meet those filters:

Some interesting things that pop out are:

  • There are significantly more cargo vessels in Southern African waters than tanker vessels
  • Cargo vessels seem to have a seasonal variation; there is a trend for more vessels in the Southern Summer
  • Tanker vessels seem to be pretty consistent
  • This time last year there were around 650 to 700 Cargo vessels in the region of interest and 200 to 250 Tanker vessels

Keep in mind, this is 2020 data and so there would be some impact by the global pandemic. What to those financial guys say? “Past performance is not an indicator of future results”. Since the canal has only been closed for a couple of days, and no matter how complex the spreadsheets those shipping agents use I doubt they would have predicted this event, there shouldn’t be any increased traffic in Southern African waters. So how many vessels are in this region right now?
Well yesterday there were  694 cargo vessels and 276 tanker vessels in the ROI.

So not that unusual, but like I said, if there is going to be a change then it will take a couple of days for it to become apparent.






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