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Shipping and ports

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The activities of the shipping and port sector can be broken down by: i) the origin/destination of the ships’ journey, ii) the purpose of traffic as well as iii) the size of ports. In this sector fiche, there will be an emphasis on cargo and passenger traffic types as well as on short sea shipping. However, service traffic and the European leg of deep sea shipping will be considered, too. Leisure boats and fishing activities also create traffic. These forms of navigation are not part of this sector fiche, but information can be found in the coastal and maritime tourism and fishing fiches.

Basic facts

  • Gross value added: € 570 billion. EU and Norway in 2015[1]
  • State of the sector: Mature and growing[2]
  • Presence across sea basins: Dispersed throughout all sea basins[3]
  • Land-sea interaction occurs through ports and hinterland connections
  • Peak in cargo demand in winter[4]
  • Interaction with other uses involves conflicts especially with uses requiring fixed installations[5]

Frequently asked questions [25]

Specific FAQs regarding this sector can be found at the bottom of the page. The following questions provide overall information on current spatial needs and anticipated future developments.

What are the present spatial needs of the Shipping and Ports sector?

Cargo and passenger transport follows a linear structure[6]. This means that they seek to take the direct route between two ports. Detours are possible, but costly, due to higher fuel expenses as well as labour costs[7].

Sufficient space must be secured for overtaking other ships as well as emergency manoeuvres[8]. This means that incompatible uses (especially offshore installations) should be sufficiently far away from the heavier trafficked areas. In addition, ships can only sail in areas which are sufficiently deep for their draught[9].

When planning for shipping in MSP, it must be ensured that sea traffic can operate safely also under adverse conditions. Heavy weather poses risks in the sense that it limits visibility. Furthermore, ships may need to deviate from the optimal course or even seek refuge in anchorage areas[10].

Which anticipated future developments of the industry are relevant to MSP?

Increasing freight volumes generally mean an increase in ship traffic[11] and a resulting claim for more sea space. It is important to assess how an increase in freight volumes would play out in a particular geographic context.

Vessel size is predicted to increase[12]. Bigger vessels have a bigger turning circle. If an area is frequently accessed by very large vessels, a wider area should be reserved for shipping in order to ensure safe navigation[13]. Furthermore, water depth in shallow areas (including in ports) limits the accessibility for vessels with a bigger draught. Some ports will adapt their infrastructure to accommodate very large carriers[14].

Short sea shipping is expected to increase, because feeder vessels will distribute the cargo that is brought to hubs by the very large vessels[15]. In addition, short sea shipping is politically supported at the EU level[16]. A spatial implication of more short sea shipping is an increased demand for space along the coastlines.

Port infrastructure: It is important to anticipate which ports will be frequently accessed by what kind of ships in the future in order to determine which routes ships will use. Existing and planned port infrastructure is a decisive factor[17]. Apart from the ability to accommodate very large carriers, the offer of alternative bunkering technology as well as a port’s general service offer may decide about the direction of traffic flows. Some small ports may even decline in importance in the competitive environment.

The spatial implications of autonomous vessels are difficult to foresee. In the trial phase, testbeds will be established that may be closed for conventional ships and other uses. In the foreseeable future, autonomous and manned vessels will coexist. Some experts say that in the beginning, autonomous vessels may require a separate lane. Others argue that autonomous shipping will require less safety distances, because technology will be more reliable than vessels operated by humans[18]. Additional information on autonomous vessel developments can be found at One Sea.

Climate change is expected to result in more extreme weather conditions (including heavier rain and storms)[19]. Ships are obliged to adapt their routes to the weather conditions[20]. In addition, climate change may trigger an opening of the Arctic route during summer, which may alter sea traffic patterns in some areas.[21]

Recommendations for MSP processes in support of the sector

  • To support the shipping sector, MSP should keep free space needed for shipping (rather than limiting shipping activities to designated areas) now and in the future. Furthermore, MSP should make sure that safety zones to incompatible activities are sufficient.
  • MSP processes may instigate a debate about changing shipping routes. However, changing international shipping routes is a lengthy process[22] and existing IMO shipping routes should be considered in MSP processes.
  • Three dimensions need to be taken into account for assessing present spatial claims and estimating future ones: The trajectory, i.e. the coordinates of ships’ movements; Width of the space required (depending on traffic density and vessel size); Water depth in relation to ships’ draught.
  • AIS data a prime source to identify the present spatial needs of shipping. From the data, the requirements of different navigation types (cargo, passenger, service, fishing) can be differentiated [22].
  • Neighbouring states should cooperate in order to ensure a mapping of shipping lanes designated in MSPs across borders [6].

For more information

For more information, please visit the long-version of the sector fiche which includes further detailed information, resources and references. 


[1] Oxford Economics. (2015). The economic value of the EU shipping industry-update.

The economic value of the EU shipping industry – update

[2] EUNETMAR (2013). Study on Blue Growth, maritime policy and the EU Strategy for the Baltic Sea Region.…

[3] EuroGraphics. (n.d). European Atlas of the Sea [Image].;p=w;…

[4] Stopford, M. (2009). Maritime economics (3rd ed.). New York,NY: Routledge.

[5] Mehdi, R. & Schröder-Hinrichts, J.-U. (2016). A Theoretical Risk Management Framework for Vessels Operating Near Offshore Wind Farms. MARE-WINT, 359-400.

[6] Gee, K., Kannen, A., & Heinrichs, B., (2011). BaltSeaPlan vision 2030: Towards the sustainable planning of Baltic Sea space.;494/1

[7] Rawson, A. & Rogers, E. (2015). Assessing the impacts to vessel traffic from offshore wind farms in the Thames Estuary. Scientific Journals of the Maritime University of Szczecin, 43(115), 99–107.…

[8] The Ministry of Infrastructure and the Environment & The Ministry of Economic Affairs (2014). White Paper on offshore wind energy: Partial review of the National Water Plan Holland Coast and area north of the Wadden Islands. The Hague. 

[9] The Nautical Institute. (2013). The shipping industry and maritime spatial planning: A professional approach.

[10] Ibid.

[11] European Commission (2013). European Seaports 2030:Challenges ahead.

[12] OECD (2015). The Impact of Mega-Ships: Case-specific policy analysis.

[13] The Ministry of Infrastructure and the Environment & The Ministry of Economic Affairs (2014)

[14] OECD (2015). The Impact of Mega-Ships: Case-specific policy analysis.

[15] European Commission. DG Mobility and Transport (2015). Analysis of recent trends in EU shipping and analysis and policy support to improve the competitiveness of short sea shipping in the EU.…

[16] European Commission DG Mobility and Transport. (2011). White Paper on transport: Roadmap to a single European transport area: Towards a competitive and resource efficient transport system.

[17] Beyer, C., Schultz-Zehden, A., Vollmann, T., Cahill, B., Ross, A. & Coornaert, C. (2017). Towards an implementation strategy for the sustainable blue growth agenda for the Baltic sea region.…

[18] Meyer, N. (2017) Shipping in the Baltic Sea. Past, present and future developments relevant for Maritime Spatial Planning.…

[19] Sarwar, G. M. (2006). Impacts of climate change on maritime industries (Doctoral dissertation, World Maritime University, Malmö, Sweden).…

[20] IMO Resolution A.528, 13: Recommendations on weather routing. (17 November 1983).…

[21] Ibid.

[22] Fiorini, et al. (2016)

[23]International Association of Marine Aids to Navigation and Lighthouse Authorities (2017). IALA guideline G1121. Navigational Safety within Marine Spatial Planning

[24]Mehdi R.,2018. -Improving the co-existence of Offshore Energy Installations & Shipping .Report on Work-package 4.4 of the NorthSEE Project.…

[25] Spasov Kalinov K, et al., Elaboration of Detailed Study on the Establishment of a New Ship Routing System in Territorial Sea of the Republic of Bulgaria.…

Frequently Asked Questions