World Seaborne Trade by Cargo Type, 1970-2021

World Seaborne Trade by Cargo Type 1970 2021

Source: UNCTAD Review of Maritime Transport, various years. Major dry bulks are iron ore, grain, and coal.

The variety of the cargo handled by maritime shipping has substantially expanded, but raw materials, weight-wise, still dominate maritime trade. For instance, iron ore, coal, and grain account for 28% of the ton-miles, while other dry cargoes, which mostly include containers, accounted for 40%. Oil alone accounted for 21% of ton-miles in 2020, but this share is significantly lower than in 1970 when it accounted for 60% of global ton-miles.

During the 1970-2008 period, the average distance over which cargoes were transported did not change; about 4,100 nautical miles. The average transport distance only marginally increased for oil (from 4,500 to 4,600 nautical miles) and slightly decreased for other dry cargoes (from 3,100 to 2,900 nautical miles). Only for major bulk trades, such as coal and iron ore, is there a significant lengthening of the voyage distance (from 4,600 to 5,400 nautical miles), mainly because of new major consumers of this imported cargo, notably China.