It all started with:
This article from January 11th on Zero Hedge
Before the first map you'll see this sentence - "We aren’t experts on shipping, however, so if you have a better site or source to track this apparent phenomenon, please let us know."
Well, you don't have to be experts in shipping, but you do have to understand the map you're looking at, and that is the heart of the problem.
The assumption is that the map is showing position of ships based on satellite data. Bad assumption. The map is showing AIS (Automatic Identification System) data from LAND BASED receivers at ports.
If you peruse this AIS Wikipedia article, you'll learn a couple of things.
One is in the "Viewing and Using AIS Data" section and states that satellite data is usually supplied at a cost. The other is the range of the system - in the "Development History" section, under "Satellite Based AIS" you'll discover the horizontal (land/sea) range is about 74 km (46 mi), and the vertical (satellite) range is 400 km.
So once a ship is out of range of a land based receiver, they will disappear off these free internet maps. You will however see ships near islands like The Azores in the Atlantic and Hawaii in the Pacific.
If you want to see the full picture (satellite data), be prepared to open your wallet -
www.marinetraffic.com is only $365 per month (billed annually @ $4,380 / yr)
The transportation industry is suffering enough as it is. Saying that global shipping has stopped is overstating how bad things really are (at least for now).
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Note: All links were working as of article posting - March 6, 2016