Skip to main content
European Commission logo

Quo Vadis - Exploring the future of shipping in the Baltic Sea


This practice deals with the development of spatial shipping scenarios in the Baltic Sea under the BalticLINes project. To develop these scenarios, multiple activities have been undertaken, such as a statistical scenario analysis and activities involving stakeholders, the elaboration of questionnaires filled in by key stakeholders and the hosting of a 2-day MSP challenge computer simulation game. Based on the findings, the report provides recommendations on shipping sector for MSP authorities.

Application in MSP:
Type of Issue:
Type of practice:
Cross-border / trans-national aspect:
Coherence with other processes:
Key words:

Questions this practice may help answer

  • What are the main external factors relevant for the future of shipping in the Baltic Sea?
  • What are the main technology development factors relevant for the future of shipping in the Baltic Sea?
  • What are the main spatial trends which can be distinguished on shipping in the Baltic Sea?
  • What are the main challenges for MSP on shipping in the Baltic Sea?
  • What can planners best do to accommodate for the upcoming spatial requirements of shipping in the Baltic Sea?

Implementation Context

Maritime Spatial Planners need to integrate the spatial demands of the shipping sector into their plans. While it is hard to determine which spatial measures are suitable for the future, planners have used different tools to make estimations about this. The Baltic LINes project has been working on developing these spatial shipping scenarios for the Baltic Sea. This report presents the outcome of the work done.

Aspects / Objectives

The goal of this report is to discuss the results of the shipping scenario activities along different themes such as the evolution of the fleet and ship characteristics, the new technologies for vessels, the change in global trade flows, the new environmental standard and, based on this, develop recommendations for Maritime Spatial Planning authorities


The scenario developing work of the project consisted of three parts:

  • A scientific sector-oriented study: This study used quantitative data of the existing situation and used extrapolations to predict future trends. Extrapolations have been done by using several variables, based on the different visions: Low economic growth, sustainable economic growth and high economic growth.
  • Interviews and a questionnaire have been held with a small group of shipping experts. This questionnaire provided a more detailed overview of the sector specific future trends, and also included some spatial issues.
  • Stakeholders have been involved via the interactive game MSP Challenge 2050. A two-day workshop for this was held in Riga, Latvia. This game provided more understanding on the spatial implications of the future shipping trends and also aimed to create awareness about other sea uses among shipping stakeholders.

The following figure provides an understanding of the methodology in time, working from sector oriented scenarios towards spatially oriented scenarios.

Main Outputs / Results

External factors and trends

  • The shipping market is highly dependent on the global and regional economic development. Globally transport overseas has increased over the last decades. The shipping market is expected to grow.
  • In the Baltic Sea economic growth of commercial shipping seems to be bipolar. It can be mainly attributed to increasing trade volumes of Russia and the recent increase in the Polish ports performance.
  • Both, the MSFD and HELCOM, request Baltic Sea countries to present a marine strategy ensuring a good environmental status of the Baltic Sea by 2020/2021.
  • HELCOM aims for additional MPAs, especially in offshore areas that have a lower protection coverage than the rest of the Baltic Sea.
  • The European Commissions’ ambition to shift transport from road to sea supports this development. On the other hand, there are EU initiatives to support rail connections which can be competitive to shipping.
  • The European Commissions’ rail corridors’ plans may support the selected ports infrastructure development.

Technology development factors

  • The world existing fleet will change its parameters - fewer vessels but newly launched vessels are bigger / have larger DWT.
  • Fleet growth puts pressure on port authorities and terminal operators to fit new requirements and react to their business environment.
  • Specialization is the main direction of technology developments.
  • Short-term development focuses on facilitating the LNG technology to be able to shift to alternative fuels. In the long-term hybrid-propulsion systems are regarded as the most convenient solution. If bunker facilities are not build offshore, there is no major impact on MSP expected.
  • Autonomous operation of unmanned ships is still under scientific investigation but represents a real future option for some types of commercial shipping. An according road map for the Baltic Sea Region has been developed by the ONE SEA project.
  • The increasing level of automatization may require the designation of fixed shipping routes and consistent safety distances, as well as strict spatial rules for the recreational use of leisure crafts.
  • Most probably the autonomous system will be developed in the following types of ships: medium-size bulk carriers, cargo barges, offshore service vessels, tugs.

Summary of main trends

  • The growth tendencies of Russian ports in the Finnish Bay are expected. This trend influence positively the Finnish and Estonian ports handling containers for Russian markets.
  • The visible growth trend is foreseen also for other Baltic large ports like Goteborg, Rostock, Gdynia and Gdańsk.
  • Passenger and ro-pax traffic is mostly focused on short distance ports of Finland-Estonia, Finland-Sweden, Germany/Denmark/Świnoujście-Sweden and generate heavy traffic. These numbers are expected to grow.
  • The expected increase in leisure traffic will also demand more space which should be possible dedicated to an expansion of safety distances to keep the commercial shipping traffic undisturbed.
  • The substantial changes are not reflected in the main shipping routes distribution. These are clearly connected with ports development and the change in the shipping.

Main challenges for MSP (the possible scenarios)

  • Shipping pattern changes: It is foreseen that particularly heavy traffic will concentrate on handling the hub ports and key international ports.
  • Port Offshore Development: reserve the adequate space for port development in line with ecosystem-based approach. Key problem is high level of uncertainty that concerns both the new port technologies (e.g. ports unmanned located outside urban areas, connection of ports with land infrastructure etc.) and consequences of port development for the dynamism of the coast. Also increased environmental pressures must be addressed by MSP.
  • Short sea shipping intensification: This will increase the intensity of spatial conflicts in the indicated coastal waters, demanding more attention from the MSP process. To ensure the navigational safety and the access to ports, the careful planning of any multiply constructions (e.g. offshore wind farms) have to take short sea shipping into account
  • More space for manoeuvring: securing such additional space is necessary. Here space should be carefully estimated. The problem is lack of commonly agreed standards and uncertainty related to technology development
  • Autonomous shipping: MSP should now include the minimum is to ensure the planned areas for transport are wide enough to safe the space for future for possible autonomous shipping
  • Growing offshore services: properly addressing socio-economic impacts of development of various off-shore industries on terrestrial communities and cumulative environmental impacts of blue growth.

The following picture provides a graphic representation of the main challenges for MSP.


  • The major red line: Core shipping traffic
  • Green dots: Areas of environmental risk
  • Red dots: Areas of future port development
  • Yellow dots: LNG port developments
  • Circles with ships: Short sea shipping increase
  • Blue dots: Forseen Offshore Wind Developments

Recommendations for MSP authorities

  • Stakeholder dialogue is one of the most promising vehicles of addressing wicked multifaceted problems related to navigation and navigation infrastructure development.
  • There are also some rules of thumb that might facilitate the MSP process, at least should  not be forgotten, eg related to Baltic standards, ferry liens, creating shipping passages in Offshore wind farms.
  • MSP authorities might also try to keep track with the dynamic future oriented issues related to navigation
  • Since MSP is a social process, MSP authorities must understand the market and political power of the shipping industry and other sea users affected by the shipping in order to device a fair and comprehensive MSP process and not to give automatic preferences to the concerns of the most organised stakeholders.
  • For shipping stakeholders: They might also adjust their way of functioning to the new circumstances of the crowded sees.


Due to the physical circumstances of the Baltic Sea, being a closed sea with a certain depth, the mentioned factor and trends might differ slightly from other sea basins. However, many findings in the report are global and have impact on all seas. Also, the method of scenario development, including interactive sessions with stakeholders, as well as the recommendations on integrating the shipping sector in the MSP process, are partly  transferable to other regions.

Responsible Entity

Maritime Institute in Gdansk

Costs / Funding Source

BalticLINes project, funded by Interreg VB Baltic Sea Region

Contact person

Magdalena Matczak (magdalena[dot]matczak[at]im[dot]gda[dot]pl)