Investigating the Shipping Industry

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Screen Shot 2015-10-19 at 1.36.45 PMParticipants in sessions on using data to cover organized crime were exposed to a revealing set of databases on shipping at the Global Investigative Journalism Conference in Lillehammer last weekend.

Award-winning journalist Giannina Segnini, currently head of the Data Concentration program at Columbia University’s School of Journalism, detailed resources available to reporters working on stories involving the shipping industry.

Segnini’s presentation was part of the workshop Exposing International Wrongdoing with Code and Journalism offered by the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists (ICIJ) and also featuring Mar Cabra , Rigoberto Carvajal, and Emilia Díaz-Struck.

Segnini previously lead the investigative team at La Nacion in Costa Rica and has done numerous groundbreaking stories.

Her presentation on Friday at the conference focused on tracking movements of shipped products, primarily by container ships.

“It’s useful to remember” she said, “that container ships move 90 percent of the world’s cargo.”

She also reminded attendees on several occasions of the importance of international codes in databases when doing global research.

“Codes are everything,” Segnini said.

Here are a few of the key resources that she recommended.

Screen Shot 2015-10-19 at 1.39.42 PMEnigma

A free searchable database of data sets with extra services available for a fee. An API (application programming interface) is available. Many of the data sets in Enigma come from U.S. federal, state, and local governments. This site also provides BOLs (Bill of Lading), which are the international customs declaration forms and essential for conducting shipping research. According to Segnini, Enigma is “like the Google of databases.”

This database is one of a number of tools that provides real-time and historical vessel movement data, searchable by a variety of access points. Vessel tracker also provides an API.

Global Integrated Shipping Information System

This searchable research tool, from the International Maritime Organization, is a treasure chest of publicly accessible information about specific ships, ports, maritime security, and piracy. A free registration is necessary for basic access.

United Nations Comtrade Database

This important database from the United Nations is “a repository of official trade statistics and relevant analytical tables.” Some of the data available in Comtrade dates back to 1962.

Stockholm International Peace Research Institute

SIPRI offers data on the arms trade. The military explanatory database is an example of integrating trade data with a focus on a specific topic. The database consists of two excel spreadsheets that include data back to 1949. There is no charge to access this material.

World Customs Organization

This professional association offers links to every customs organization in the world.

Port Examiner

Free access to trade data from U.S. Customs. This database is searchable by:

  • Supplier Name
  • Importer Name
  • Cargo Description
  • Carton Marks

For those interested in seeing the type of data available to researchers when conducting shipping research, a few quick searches of Port Examiner is a must.

Maersk Line Company

Maersk, one of the largest shipping companies in the world, provides databases with real-time shipment tracking and ship schedules.

Bureau International des Containers

This provides data about individual containers used in international shipping.

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