More trades by sea

The oceans – basis of life and place of longing. But above all, they are a gigantic economic factor. Today, more than two thirds of the world’s total freight volume is shipped across the oceans.

Far, deep, mysterious. It is the origin of all life, the bridge between the worlds, an integral part of the myth of mankind, the place for dreams and desires – the sea. Around 71 percent of the earth – more than two thirds – are covered by the sea. Water that man needs existentially for life: About 70 percent of the oxygen that the earth’s inhabitants inhale is produced by marine flora.

In addition, the ocean is a gigantic economic factor – you don’t even think about it when you sit on the beach and stare at the rolling waves without getting tired. As a source of food and energy, trade, transport and traffic routes and through their rich mineral resources. The world market turnover of the seas? 1.2 billion euros annually.

Because transport by water is unbeatably cheap compared to other transport routes, the seas are the world’s number one transport route. Around 45,000 merchants ship from us to singapore transporting almost seven billion tons of goods a year. Today, more than two thirds of the world’s total freight volume is shipped across the oceans.

In the cargo port of Singapore, the colorful containers are stacked in some terminals up to 25-meter-high towers. Around 30 million freight containers from all over the world are handled here every year. In the deserted container port, the second largest in the world and much praised for its efficiency, business is done as if by magic: computer-controlled cranes move the tons of freight into the cargo holds with centimetre precision and sheer inscrutable logistics. The whole earth is connected via the oceans, and hardly any destination remains unachieved in the globalized world. It is not only the steadily growing number of goods transported in this way that leads to the conclusion that the sea is the economic area of the future.

The oceans have not always been so economically significant

“Although people have preferred to settle and fish in inland waters and coastal areas since primeval times, they developed ships quite late with which they could cross the oceans,” says the German historian Martin Rheinheimer, who is researching the importance of the sea for certain regions at the university in Esbjerg (Denmark).

According to current knowledge, it was not until 6000 B.C. that people moved on the sea with ships, without seamanly knowledge or technical navigational aids such as a compass. “If the coast with its landmarks got out of sight, one could quickly deviate from the course,” says Rheinheimer. The adventures of Odysseus tell of that time. Homer lets the hero of his “Odyssey” wander around the Mediterranean for ten years after the victorious battle of Troy.

Admittedly, it is not ignorance or even inability in the description that prevents Odysseus from returning from Asia Minor to Ithaca on the Peloponnese: To finally become a hero, he must defeat the one-eyed giant Polyphemus, escape the sea monsters Scylla and Charybdis and the wrath of the sea god Poseidon, and resist bewitching women like Circe and the Sirens.

Transport Route for Goods

Today, the sea has become the most important transport route for goods, but it has lost much of its importance in another economic sector: fishing. For thousands of years, man has been taking the scaled raw material from the oceans – for a long time only in small quantities and exclusively for his own needs. Finding good fishing grounds was based on chance and experience.

Even in the 19th century, shoals of fish could only be identified by individual fishermen on the basis of circling seabirds or schools of dolphins in the oceans. For hunting, people used hand-knotted nets, willow traps and wooden and bone spears and harpoons. Only in the Middle Ages did fish become a real export hit: herring – pickled in salt or dried – was a must in every Christian household on Friday.

Industrial deep-sea fishing

In the age of industrial deep-sea fishing, more than two million ships around the globe are now fishing for mackerel, tuna or giltheads with kilometer-long nets and state-of-the-art technology such as echosounders and satellites. “Today, they can precisely locate and catch every fish,” says marine historian Rheinheimer. “If a swarm swims into the locating beam of a trawler, it’s done.”

Too many swarms swam into the locating beam: According to the latest report from the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations in 2009, around 80 percent of the fish stocks in the world’s oceans are overfished or exploited to their limits. The most affected are the Northwest Atlantic, the Western Indian Ocean and the Northwest Pacific. The environmental foundation WWF estimates the economic losses caused by overfishing at 40 billion euros per year.


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