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Safety of international trading ships
In today’s time 90% of the world’s international trade happens on one of the 45.000 trading ships and assembles to about 7 billion tons of goods transported each year. The giants of export are China, the US and the EU (especially Germany and the Netherlands). Many global powers and wealthy companies are interested in safe and fast sea routes to keep the transport as beneficial as possible.
There are three major dangers for trading ships on the open sea: firstly the risk of the unpredictability of nature like storms, high waves or sudden fog. Secondly pirates and terrorists. Thirdly foreign powers and militaries who claim certain parts of oceans. Problem one and two can be solved with the development of new technology. As ships became larger and sturdier they are able to withstand even the largest waves and with an advancement of positioning systems they are able to keep contact and track location even in the heaviest fogs. The ginormous size prevents pirates from climbing the walls and because special systems recognize approaching boats early enough, the crew has time to prepare.
The third problem is the most current one and also the hardest to solve because to achieve
that there would need to be an absolute peace at sea like making all oceans one entire
neutral zone. Technically that’s already the case, as it’s considered a, "common heritage of mankind“ by the United Nations. The same paragraph also states that each country may claim sea up to 12 nautical miles (22 km) away from shore and another 200 ‚nautical miles (370 km) for economical purposes only. This law has one major flaw: there’s no real way to control it or punish disobeying. On one hand because of the oceans’ sizes, on the other hand because member countries of the United Nations Security Council are regularly breaking the rule. The best example is China’s claim on large parts of the South Chinese Sea and the Indian Ocean. In Southeast Asia is a lot of disagreement about which part of the sea belongs to whom. But because China is the mightiest country of all of them with the strongest navy it is easier to secure their claims. This made the Australian government worry about their ships safety and they signed a pact of support with the US and the UK. But that did not make the Chinese stop. At this articles publication date there has already been a long list of more or less recent events were China ignored laws and warnings and went permissionless
into Australia’s rightful 200 sea miles radius. It becomes even more critically when we add the fact that they used war ships. All of this shows that China is the dominant power in this region. They also have contracts with South Pacific island states where they trade their financial support for the allowance to use the countries location for military reasons, like stationing soldiers, and the support of local governments. All in all the situation is very tense. Additionally there is also the tension regarding the island of Taiwan which China claims as part of their country while the government in Taipeh and theTaiwanese people demand independence. Taiwan also has an alliance with the US, Japan and Australian.
At the moment is no relief of the tension inside insight. Everyone accusing everyone else of espionage does not ease it either.
Another global economic related debate regarding sea routes is about the north east passage. The north east passage is the fastest route from Europe to Asia. It stretches mostly north of Russia in the there located part of the arctic sea. The counter part is the north west passage along the Canadian and Alaskan coast.The „ traditional“ way tho is through the Mediterranean Sea, through the Suez Canal and the Indian Ocean. A ship from Rotterdam (Netherlands) to Tokyo (Japan) on this route would need to cover a distance of 21.100 km and pass several sea gates like the strait of Gibraltar, the Suez Canal, the Red Sea, the strait of Malakka and Singapur. All of them are pretty narrow so long waiting periods are not unusual and from time to time ships get stuck there and the whole strait is blocked for long periods of time. Another ship from Rotterdam going through one of the north passages would have to cover a distance of 15.900 km on the west or 14.100 km on the east. Not only are they a lot shorter but are also not overly blocked by sea gates. A negative aspect is the fact that the routes are covered in ice during the colder months of the year and there is no way through without an icebreaker. But due to climate change the frozen time becomes shorter every year, which makes the passages usable for longer periods of time. The North west passage is not known for any major political argument unlike the north east passage. The east passage is entirely under Russian control because it is mainly located along their coastline. They control every ship passing through and demand fees for crossing Russian waters which brings us to another controversial aspect. The already mentioned UN law has an extra paragraph that states that the 200 sea miles radius also includes continental connected sockets. So Russia claims to have some dozens of sea miles away from the mainland to expand their area of influence.
So only Russian approved ships are even able to pass this passage. With the current direction of climate change that will change within this century, when the poles melt so much that the north passages can be used no matter the season without crossing a countries water. With the problem of passages fading, a new one quickly arises: The military use of the Arctic. It’s already in the beginning with news of soldiers and missiles being stationed on northern continental extension. The shortest way a missile can take on the way from Russia to the US is across the pole.
It’s difficult to state if international sea ways are really safe right now. Because in the history of humanity they were never entirely safe. There we are always political tensions or natural dangers. We will know best when in the future we look back and compare this era of seafaring with the ones to follow.