Does a screenshot of a ship-tracking map prove that all the ships shown along the Chinese coast were "waiting to dock" because of China's COVID-19 strategy? No, that's not true: The screenshot provided no context for the claim, and it showed ships of all purposes that were both anchored and underway. A spokesperson for MarineTraffic, a popular ship-tracking website, confirmed to Lead Stories that not all the ships shown in the screenshot were "waiting to dock."
The claim appeared in a tweet (archived here) posted on May 3, 2022. The tweet includes a screenshot of a ship-tracking map with what appeared to be hundreds of ships along the Chinese coast. The tweet reads:
Ships waiting to dock because of China's insane COVID strategy. This is intentional.
This is what the post looked like on Twitter at the time of writing:
(Source: Twitter screenshot taken on Thu May 5 19:12:52 2022 UTC)
Although Lead Stories could not replicate the screenshot because the tweet was posted two days before this fact check was published, we determined that the map in the screenshot appeared similar to the MarineTraffic Live Map, which shows the positions of vessels around the world.
According to MarineTraffic, there are two shapes that indicate the status of a particular vessel. One is a pointed shape that indicates the vessel is underway, and another is a circle to indicate the vessel is anchored. Contrary to the tweet's implication, the screenshot contained both underway (pointed) and anchored (circular) icons. The difference is demonstrated below in screenshots taken from MarineTraffic along the Chinese coast by Lead Stories on May 5, 2022. The first screenshot only shows underway vessels, the second screenshot only shows anchored vessels and the third screenshot shows both underway and anchored vessels:
(Source: Marine Traffic screenshot taken on Thu May 5 18:10:20 2022 UTC)
(Source: Marine Traffic screenshot taken on Thu May 5 18:11:18 2022 UTC)
The Twitter user's assertion that all the ships shown in the screenshot used in the tweet were "waiting to dock" is unsubstantiated. Because several of the ships were underway, it is incorrect to conclude that all of them were "waiting" -- they could have been making their way elsewhere.
Additionally, not all the ships shown in the screenshot were commercial. In an email sent to Lead Stories on May 5, 2022, Georgios Hatzimanolis, a spokesperson for MarineTraffic, said of the claim:
It is our map but all those vessels are not waiting to dock, in fact a very big portion of those vessels are not even commercial. There are fishing boats, tugs, special craft, all sorts of boats and ships.
If you use the MarineTraffic filters to show just commercial vessels you would notice it looks completely normal for one of worlds busiest hot spots of global shipping and trade.
While there are reports of shipping backlogs along the Chinese coast after China began enforcing a COVID lockdown in Shanghai, such backlogs are not unusual. Several areas around the world -- including the U.S., as explained in other Lead Stories fact checks -- have experienced shipping backlogs due to the effects of the COVID pandemic.