Rapid Assessment of the Impact of China’s Military drills on Maritime Traffic near Taiwan

August 15, 2022
Cargo Ship Docked at a Port at Night Offloading Cargo


The Taiwan Strait is one of the most important shipping corridors in the world, connecting important ports in Northeast Asia with the West and the Middle East. In 2021-22 nearly half of the global container fleet passed through this stretch of ocean.

In the first week of August, China initiated a series of military drills in waters around Taiwan. The timing of these drills corresponded with the visit of US Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi’s visit to Taiwan. Maritime traffic around Taiwan was disrupted as China designated six no-sail zones to carry-out its military drills (see Figure 1). The military drills were initially announced to take place over four days, from Thursday, August 4th to Sunday, August 7th , although China announced an extension of the drills for an additional few days.

Concerns about the military drills and their potential to impact already strained supply chains were raised immediately by the members of the shipping industry. Figure 1 shows the drill zones around Taiwan, and clearly details the extent of the prohibited areas of sailing.

Figure 1. Six military drill zones.

To understand the impacts caused by these military drills to the shipping industry, GSTS focused their powerful maritime platform on analyzing the pattern of change in marine traffic in the region. GSTS is a leader in Artificial Intelligence solutions for the maritime domain. Our flagship program OCIANA™️ ingests and tracks more than 200,000 vessels worldwide, employing advanced AI algorithms to save lives, energy, and the environment while strengthening logistics resilience on a global scale. Through rapid analysis of ship tracking data, we quickly examined and quantified the impact of China’s military drills to vessel traffic in the Strait of Taiwan.

Our analysis compared marine traffic during the exercises against a baseline of maritime traffic from July 2022, a month earlier, using data from an interval of dates between July 7th and July 10th. The analysis was focused primarily on the effects of the military drills on the six zones announced by China (See Figure 2).

There was, as anticipated, a sudden and sharp reduction in traffic observed over these six zones: whereas 693 ships moved through the six zones over the four-day period in July, only 42 transited these areas during the four-day military drills in August, representing a drop of 94%. More importantly, ships were already at sea during the announcement of these restrictions and had to deviate their course, resulting in delays and additional fuel consumption.

Figure 2. All maritime traffic. Left: from July 7th to 11th. Right: from August 4th to 7th.

Increases in vessel traffic in regions adjacent to restriction zones in key shipping lanes led to significant increases in traffic, with some shipping lanes in the Taiwan Strait seeing an increase in vessel traffic of 25% as vessels were forced to navigate around exclusion zones. For instance, in zone number 1 ships had to change their course, consuming in some cases more fuel and potentially increasing collision risks and navigation challenges in these areas (See Figure 3)

Figure 3 Maritime traffic zone one. Left: from July 7th to 11th. Right: from August 4th to 7th.

Zone 1 has the most traffic, and is located in the Taiwan Strait, an important corridor for merchant ships. The second busiest zone is number six, located close to the Port of Kaohsiung, the most important port in Taiwan (See Figure 4). Looking at the graph, we can see the drastic drop in the numbers of vessels within the two compared periods.

Figure 4 Number of ships transiting on drills zones

Being able to drill down into details of ships most affected also gives insight into the nature of potential supply chain disruptions. The most common ship type transiting the six zones was Bulk Carriers, with 313 vessels navigating over the six zones during the four-day period in July and only 14 of them during the August (See Figure 5).

Figure 5 Maritime traffic of bulk carriers. Left: from July 7th to 11th. Right: from
August 4th to 7th.

Many ships were forced to deviate their course. For instance, on August 5th the Container ship AMALIA C was navigating to the port of Kao-Hsiung, instead of traveling through zone six which would be the optimal route, AMALIA C can be seen navigating around the zone, increasing the distance by approximately 5%, leading to consumption of additional fuel (See Figure 6).

Figure 6 Track of a container ship on August 5th, 2022

OCIANA™️ provides a platform that integrates real-time vessel information with external data sources to provide enhanced situational awareness to better understand, adapt to, and overcome challenges faced at sea. The platform can help design optimal routes considering, for example, unforeseen navigational challenges, to better understand their impact and help plan mitigation of future uncertainties in the maritime environment.


Diana Borda, MSc

Katherine Borda

Colin Robertson, PhD

To learn more on how we  can help with your maritime challenges, please contact us at info@gsts.ca.

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