MarineTraffic Blog

Supporting journalism with shipping data

Within minutes of the Singaporean authorities confirming that a Greek tanker had collided with the American destroyer USS John S McCain, the MarineTraffic press office was taking calls from journalists looking for the inside story. “Can you provide the vessel tracks? What other ships were in the vicinity? Whose fault was it?”

As the world’s leading vessel tracking and maritime intelligence service, MarineTraffic is the go-to source for journalists looking for the data generated by ships’ AIS to help tell their stories. Whether it is a shipping disaster, trade or human interest story; being able to provide readers with accurate evidence and analysis of sailing and trading patterns can take the story to a whole new level.

“It’s all about being to meet the journalists’ requirements as quickly as possible,” comments Alex Charvalias, Product Manager for Data Intelligence at MarineTraffic. “Everyone is in a hurry and it’s always a matter of urgency.”

As a former journalist himself, MarineTraffic Media & Communications Manager Georgios Hatzimanolis all too well understands the need for speed. “We get dozens of requests a week, from maritime publications such as TradeWinds to the major global daily newspapers like the New York Times, the Guardian and the Washington Post. We always respond within 12 hours.”

Helping the media

But with so many requests coming in, how does MarineTraffic decide which stories to support?

“Our first step is to make sure that the request is clear, check that it is do-able, and to assess the value of the story,” says Alex Charvalias. “Does the size and importance of the story and the audience reached match the effort that it’s going to take to deliver what’s required by the journalist? Can we do it quickly enough to meet their requirements?”

MarineTraffic provides media access to its data because it is an organisation committed to transparency and sharing data.

Transparency leads to a more open society and greater efficiencies. MarineTraffic is proud to play its part in delivering change. A network of 3,500 plus AIS receiving stations is at the heart of a service that shows where the world’s ships are, where they have been and where they are predicted to go. Which, combined with other data, research and intelligence, this very powerful information can deliver useful insights.

MarineTraffic makes no judgement on the conclusions that can be drawn from the evidence delivered by the platform. The company simply provides accurate and actionable data.

Growing interest

In the first eight months of 2017 alone, MarineTraffic data has featured in at least 10,500 news stories in 64 countries with a further 44,000 social media mentions. The company has provided data for stories as diverse as the Mediterranean migrant crisis, suspicious tanker movements in ISIS controlled territory, Russian oligarch meetings with US officials, allegations of sanctions breaking and the movements of US Cabinet member Wilbur Ross’ shipping investments.

Each of these stories has required the MarineTraffic team to work closely with journalists to understand their request, spot check the data and generate the necessary datasets, charts and diagrams.

However, as Alex Charvalias explains, it is not MarineTraffic’s role to interpret the data.

“Of course everyone wants to know why the USS John S McCain hit the tanker. Was it because of congestion or was it an error by the cargo vessel? We won’t and can’t speculate on the causes, but we can help people visualise what happened.”

Data journalism is on the rise with MarineTraffic receiving more questions from data analysts than ever before
Data journalism is on the rise with MarineTraffic receiving more questions from data analysts than ever before

Rise of data journalism

The information provided by MarineTraffic is driving data-journalism, a buzz word in media circles for a number of years.

As the Bureau for Investigative Journalism explains:

“Technology can be used by journalists to unearth more pieces of information than a human alone. It allows us to dig deeper, get stories faster and unearth complexity in a way we have never been able to before. Just as in traditional reporting, the top line or the lead from an insightful piece of data is just the start. These findings must be combined with local knowledge, investigating, research and reporting.”

Data journalism is on the rise with MarineTraffic receiving more questions from data analysts than ever before. The challenge for MarineTraffic is to become more proactive, pick-up and alert users to abnormalities in data.

“Next year we hope to be able to alert our users to changing situations such as more ships calling at a particular port than before, or more ships waiting to load,” says Alex Charvalias.

Just a few years ago it was impossible to monitor the activities of the world’s ships once they had left port. Once a ship had disappeared over the horizon, it was out of sight and out of mind. Today the general public and businesses alike can see where the world’s ships are. Greater transparency is a good thing for the shipping industry and a good thing for the world.

For MarineTraffic media enquiries, please find contact information here


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Katerina Ignatiou
Marketing Assistant @MarineTraffic