Data-driven decisions for everyone

This blog post was updated on 10/6/2019

How the new MarineTraffic Data Exploration Tool is an important step towards greater maritime transparency

The MarineTraffic database is home to unparalleled AIS vessel position data, a vast resource of maritime information. Especially with the recent addition of a third satellite provider, MarineTraffic AIS coverage has been improved, allowing users to gain more accurate insights. But every day, customers contact the MarineTraffic data team in search of intelligence they can’t extract themselves.

Each request is different, as they come from a diverse range of users from across the maritime industry and beyond, so there’s little chance of making tools or reports that are useful for everyone. But what if users had the full ability to access the data and take the intelligence they need themselves?

To meet the needs of all its users, MarineTraffic has decided to open up new and existing datasets through its new Data Exploration Tool. Until now, only limited parts of the historical data set were accessible to users through web or API services. The Data Exploration Tool offers expansive access to MarineTraffic data, with a powerful but easy-to-use web interface, that allows all users to analyse, combine and visualise more data than ever before, all in one place.

“We noticed that every request was different, everyone wanted to filter and structure information in their own way,” explains Alex Charvalias, Data Intelligence Product Manager at MarineTraffic. “The Data Exploration Tool was born as a solution, as a medium, to make all our data accessible to our customers. We want to empower every user to fulfil their individual needs so they can get maximum value out of the data.”

The Data Exploration interface designed to open up access to maritime data in a way that all users understand what they’re seeing. Users can use a wide range of filters, such as time, vessel type, port, etc. and have a wide range of customisation options to combine data however they see fit. It is built with multiple options for exporting results, to give as much potential as possible for data integration, through bringing it into workflows or external company’s systems.

Over time, the portal’s capabilities will grow, giving everyone – from individual home users to vast shipping companies – even more customisation options and the ability to meet as broad a range of needs as possible. It forms part of the MarineTraffic progression towards offering more value-added and intelligent solutions, while providing increasingly diverse and sophisticated analytics within the platform.

Over the last decade, MarineTraffic has compiled the most detailed, accurate and authoritative record of vessel movements worldwide, creating an unequalled database of polygons for ports, anchorages, etc. enabling the capture of hundreds of thousands of maritime events per day. Users have access to the last year of this historical data; an enormous dataset invaluable for anyone making investigations on a global scale, such as commodity flows, right down to movements within a tiny area, such as within a specific port – during any time period, from hours to up to one year.

Data Exploration Tool MarineTraffic

However, the technical challenges involved in opening up access to the MarineTraffic database server are considerable. While previously this was accessible only to a number of internal users, now it must be ready for thousands of queries from around the world each day. Another challenge comes from making the data comprehensible to the diverse range of users, who might use different language or terminology about the same events.

Yet, the challenges in facilitating this access are far outweighed by the benefits. “The more you play with data, the more you get an appetite to drill down, explore and discover potential correlations,” Alex explains. “We’re not trying to serve users digested reports on what we think is appropriate for them – we’re giving everyone the tools they need to dig for what they need. There really is no boundary to what people can potentially do with it.”

Not only is the Data Exploration Tool an attempt to meet the needs of a wide-ranging user base more effectively, but opening up this data is part of the MarineTraffic commitment to increasing maritime transparency and its belief in the power of open data. Broadening access to data supports innovation, because different people can find new ways to create value from data and develop tools, products or research that could go on to benefit all of us.

Think of it like a vast library full of the world’s knowledge. If those books are kept under lock and key, or its access mediated by grumpy librarians, it offers limited value. But if the doors are flung open to everyone, the knowledge potential is unleashed for all, and the value on its pages can be shared widely – and even built upon.

In the short term, the Data Exploration Tool will make it much easier for users to find the intelligence they need themselves. Whether that is marine suppliers acquiring new customers by finding specific vessels within their target market or in chartering, through better assessing supply and demand in a given area.

But MarineTraffic believes tools like this which increase data openness will have a much larger positive impact over the long term. “We hope this will increase the appetite for users across the shipping community to become more data aware,” Alex explains. “Many decisions taken by the industry are still based on hearsay. In offering broad access to tools like this, we’re providing a small stepping stone in a much wider process of cultural change towards more data-driven decision-making. It’s an important push towards transparency that will also create huge efficiencies across the industry.”


Find out more about how you can use the Data Exploration Tool for your needs here.

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Alex King
Alex King is a British journalist based in Athens, who covers humanitarian issues, alternative culture and travel in the region.