The World’s Busiest Shipping Channel – Strait of Dover

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Strait of Dover. Image Courtesy: Earth Snapshot

Shipping has grown exponentially in the recent past and is only going to grow further. New vessels are being built everyday and new businesses are being founded, leading to more shipping traffic. Additionally, due to climate change and global warming, new shipping routes are also being established. The good news is that the ocean is vast and can accommodate a great deal of vessel traffic. However, there are certain places that are prone to much more traffic than others because of their location in crucial areas that are indispensable for use during world trade.

The Strait of Dover is one such location. The popularity of this shipping channel lies in the fact that it is strategically located. It connects the Baltic and the North Seas and is located on the narrowest part of the English Channel. The strait has width of 18-25 miles, while the depth of the strait is between 120 to 180 feet. Since the width of the strait is less, it is possible to see the opposite coastline of both the countries with the naked eye on a clear day.

Most maritime traffic between the Atlantic Ocean and the North Sea and Baltic Sea passes through the Strait of Dover, rather than taking the longer and more dangerous route around the north of Scotland. The strait is the busiest international seaway in the world, used by over 400 commercial vessels daily. This has made traffic safety a critical issue, with HM Coastguard and the Maritime Gendarmerie maintaining a 24-hour watch over the strait and enforcing a strict regime of shipping lanes.

In addition to the intensive east–west traffic, the strait is crossed from north to south by ferries linking Dover to Calais and Dunkerque. Until 1994 these provided the only route across it for land transport. The Channel Tunnel now provides an alternative route, crossing beneath the strait at an average depth of 45 m (148 ft) below the seabed.

In fact, the Strait of Dover has special mention in the Guinness World Records, which states, “The Dover Strait is the world’s busiest shipping lane. 500-600 ships a day pass through the narrow strait between the UK and France. Cargoes include oil from the Middle-East to European ports, and various commodities from North and South America to European customers. In 1999, 1.4 billion tonnes gross, carried by 62,500 vessels passed through the Dover Strait. ”

Sea News Feature, February 8