Tracking ships to understand trade

Can we better understand traffic at British ports and can we use shipping as an early indicator for gross domestic product?


Last year, the Department for Transport (DfT) reported that 484 million tonnes of freight moved through UK ports, a 2% increase in unitised traffic at major ports. One of the main drivers for this growth was the container trade, reporting an increase of 1 million units (20%) in the last decade (2006 to 2016). With the need for new decisions and policies from the authorities, it’s important to understand the behaviour of shipping industry and the potential benefits to the economy.

Our work

This project aims to develop a robust system that can process big data of ship locations and reports to understand the UK shipping network and port utilisation.

What’s the data science?

We’re using the Automatic Identification System (AIS) and Consolidated European Reporting System (CERS) datasets, provided by Maritime and Coastguard Agency (MCA), to study the major port network, its traffic and processing waiting times. Finally, freight traffic in the UK will be evaluated as an early indicator of gross domestic product (GDP).

What’s the impact?

This project will help:

  • identify port over- or under-utilisation
  • achieve more efficient port funding
  • improve the marine passage of goods to the UK

Our partners

The project is a collaborative effort between the Data Science Campus, the Department for International Trade and the Center for Big Data Statistics at Statistics Netherlands.

If you’re interested in learning more about this project or would like to get involved then you can get in touch via email or Twitter.