The adventurous journey of pharmaceutical cargo around the globe

Once upon a time, medicines with patent of Royal favor counted as precious high value cargo, along with tea, spices and rum, shipped from Old England to Amerikay and all over the world. The great advantage of medicinal nostrums compared to rum was that the crew typically could not drink the cargo on the way there.

” I’ve a fine strong crew and I tell them what to do
I’m the captain of the ship The Bonnie Lady
She’s my joy and my pride and she’s twenty meters wide
And they call her the ship The Bonnie Lady”

” We’ve a vast haul of rum a cargo we will run
From along the far off shores of Haiti
With the brisk salt air just blowin’ through my hair
At the wheel of the ship The Bonnie Lady”

Source: YouTubeTimes have changed. Pharmaceutical companies grew bigger and stronger, and moved their manufacturing operations to India and China. Big markets in the U.S. and in Europe import vast amounts of medicines from exotic places in South-East Asia. Many active pharmaceutical ingredients, including essential medicines, are manufactured exclusively in China. One thing has not changed over the centuries though: straits and choke-points cargo ships have to pass on their way from Asia to Europe remained exactly the same. Well, with the exception of the Suez Canal that significantly shortened journey from the Far East to Europe and the Panama Canal that connected the U.S. East and West Coast.

ICC: Live piracy map

Routes from India to U.S. West Coast

On the way from India to the U.S. West Coast, cargo has to pass the Strait of Malacca and sail through the South China Sea.

See SeaRates

Routes from China to Europe

On the way from major pharmaceutical manufacturing centers in China to Western Europe, cargo has to sail through the South China Sea and pass the Strait of Malacca, Bab el-Mandab, Suez Canal, and the Strait of Gibraltar.


See SeaRates

The English Channel

Daily Mail: Watch the world’s ships sail Earth’s oceans in REAL TIME: Interactive map reveals crowded routes taken by planet’s vessels

China’s maritime choke points
18 maps that explain maritime security in Asia: Spratly Islands

War College: Will there be war in the South Chin Sea?
(listen to the podcast at Sound Cloud)

“Man’s natural habitat is land, and land dominates his conscious endeavor–social, economic, political, and military. Yet, almost three quarters of his world is ocean. It is the original source of life for all earth’s species; it is the essential means of global transport for man’s produce, commerce, and military strength. While the world ocean is beyond sight of much of mankind, its influence is ubiquitous.“

PARAMETERS, US Army War College Quarterly – Summer 1997 Peele, RB: The importance of maritime chokepoints (SSI, 1997)