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How much disruption are Chinese military drills causing in one of the world’s busiest shipping lanes?

As China conducts military exercises in Taiwan, ships traveling through one of the busiest shipping areas on the planet have had to avoid an area covering nearly 10,000 miles.

Taiwanese authorities asked vessels to avoid six areas where Chinese military drills are being conducted. Some of these zones are near or in the densely populated Taiwan Strait until Sunday operations end.

China’s military exercises were one of many retaliatory measures against Nancy Pelosi, the US Speaker, visiting Taiwan.

China places a ‘ring of iron’ around Taiwan – live updates


Shipping analysts claim that although some vessels were rerouted, there is minimal impact on the global supply chain.

Marine Traffic data shows that vessels moved through the region as normal in the hours preceding the drills.

However, as soon as the exercises begin, ships start to avoid the area.

The shipping industry around the world is dependent on this region. The Taiwan Strait is its main artery, located between mainland China (China) and Taiwan Island (Taiwan).

Niels Rasmussen (chief shipping analyst, international shipping association BIMCO) stated that all types of ships use the Taiwan Strait because it is the route to and fro China and Korea for all vessels sailing to and from the West.

The majority of vessels that pass through the corridor transport raw materials to East Asia or finished goods to the rest the world.

Three of the military practice areas are located in or near the Taiwan Strait. Shipping companies often include active military exercises in their route planning. However, it is not common for drills to be held in commercial shipping areas.

These drills are different because they take place in a highly-used area. Drills are not something you would normally do in the middle of a busy shipping lane, said Emily Stausboll from Xeneta, a shipping analyst.

The Taiwan Strait’s 800-square-mile exclusion zone is located between Pingtan Island and the island’s northwestern coast. It lies just outside mainland China.

Around 17 vessels can be seen in the area at 10am UTC (universal Time) on 29 juillet. They are mostly tankers or carrier ships that travel along the well-traveled trade route.

You can also see the empty area on 4 August eight hours after the military exercise began by moving the button in the image.

Mr Rasmussen stated that vessels will need to take longer and alternative routes to reach Taiwanese ports. Some vessels appear to have already chosen to sail east of Taiwan, rather than through the Strait.

Another exclusion zone is located just 15 nautical miles away from Kaohsiung, Taiwan’s main port.

At least 30 vessels were present in the area on 30 July. You can see the port nearby, where you will find many ships.

However, on 5 August, there are far fewer ships and only one vessel appears to be at the perimeter.

Lloyd’s List Intelligence however reports that there have been no reductions in port calls or reports of disruptions to ports in Taiwan.

Analysts say the detours along Taiwan’s east coast are largely causing the most damage. Although they can be annoying, they are manageable.

Mr Rasmussen stated that delays are not good for any supply chain, especially one that has been plagued with delays for a long period.

“Despite this, it is unlikely that the exercise will be delayed more than a small fraction of the fleet around the world.

“Small speed improvements in the vessels’ onwards schedule should be able o make up these delays over the next month or so.”

The Data and Forensics Team, a multi-skilled unit, is dedicated to transparent journalism by Sky News. To tell data-driven stories, we gather, analyse, and visualise data. Our traditional reporting skills are combined with advanced analysis of satellite imagery, social media, and other open-source information. Multimedia storytelling allows us to tell the story of our journalism and help people understand it.

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