How to move goods by sea

Main international shipping routes


Shipping routes reflect world trade flows. Sailings are most numerous and most frequent on routes where trade volumes are largest and demand is therefore greatest.

In liner trades to and from the United Kingdom, the busiest routes are to the Far East (especially China and Japan), passing through the Mediterranean, the Suez Canal and the Malacca Straits. The North Atlantic route, linking Western Europe and the USA and Canada, is also busy, and there are well-established routes to the Middle East, India, Australia and New Zealand, Central and South America, as well as to East and West Africa.

There are direct liner services from the UK to most other countries, and certainly to all the main trading economies. However, if your cargo is destined for a smaller port in one of these countries or for a port in a country with little trade with the UK, there may not be a direct sailing available. In this case, your cargo will need to be transhipped to another local sailing at the end of the ocean voyage.

In-bulk trade routes reflect the places of origin and consumption of the commodities carried. For example, many of the main oil routes begin in the Middle East and end in developed countries where demand for oil is greatest.

There will usually be a range of routes by which your cargo can reach its destination. It's worth exploring all the options available to find the one that best suits your needs in terms of price, speed, safety and contractual stipulations. This can be done by directly contacting those shipping companies that advertise sailings to your destination or by engaging freight forwarders to make arrangements for you - see using brokers and forwarders.

Find an overview of the world's shipping routes on the World Shipping Council website.