Container ships on Google Maps

I’ve noticed an odd thing recently… If I open Google Maps (or Google Earth) and look at Oakland Estuary, and the container port there, there are no ships shown at any of the docks… this happened sometime relatively recently, maybe in past six months (since last time I happened to look up there). The map dates (per Google Earth) are 08/05/20 and 08/06/20. Judging from the shadows from the cranes, it appears to have been about noon. Also, there are no other ships (including ferries) visible in the estuary…

This is very odd, 'cause I don’t think I’ve ever seen a day when there weren’t at least one or two container vessels moored up somewhere in that area…

Does anyone know what is going on here?? “security concerns” don’t really seem relevant, given that the displayed maps are always weeks outdated before images appear, and ships don’t stick around that long. I don’t know any other reason for blotting out the ship images (if that’s what happened)…

hmmm… that was the middle of the beginning of the covid apocalypse, but still… while shipping around here did slow down for awhile, it never entirely stopped… ??

It is really odd to see those docks with nothing tied up there!!!

Yeah I’d agree since if you scroll over Oahu on Google earth you can see three B-2 bombers on the tarmac at Hickam, two submarines in drydock at PHNSY, and another one with its weapons loadout visible on the dock in Westloc.

So yeah, I’d say security concerns aren’t really to strongly vetted on Google earth

You can yet your house image removed from google street view, if you ask. Not the overhead shot though.

I know that governments (and probably other agencies) can get areas removed from the overhead view; I’ve seen this in several places around the world. However, even then the effect is pretty evident - the fuzzy effect isn’t really concealed at all, you just can’t see what is there, it’s like a dense haze over the area. That effect isn’t visible at all in Oakland estuary, though…

I saw something similar once when I was viewing the Seal Beach Naval Weapons Station. Just south of the Port of Long Beach.
There was a US Navy ship docked there but when I lowered the view there was only clear water. There were different dates on the photos also.

This is a screen shot of SF Bay on GE.

The boat underway is a photo but to the left, nearshore it’s something else. Maybe photos taken on different days and then processed in some way to avoid a patchwork mosaic of photos.

I think you are right. I think the images avavilable on Google are actually composite images formed from images taken on several satellite passes. The purpose being to eliminate random interference, such as cloud cover/shadows/fog, to render the sharpest image of structures and shorelines. The software recognizes what is always there in the image and eliminates everything else. The ships are transitory, or moving at anchor, and so would be eliminated.

If this theory is right it reminds me of another, older photo phenomenon. If you look at photos of city streets taken prior to1850 they are empty of people, animals, and carriages. The reason being that the chemical tech at the time required very long exposures to capture an image. So anything moving did not show up in the image.

1 Like

All this is true, but they have never previously removed ships from the images before… you’d get whatever you got… it is not at all uncommon to, for example, look at the transition edges between images from two different dates, and see only part of a ship; that’s especially true in areas such as Singapore or Rotterdam, where there are very many ships

This new situation is something completely different… it looks like the ships have been actually air-brushed out of the images, which I don’t understand… I’ve seen that in the past, for example, when looking at active military/navy bases, where there will just be fuzzy spots where equipment was present. Governments and various organizations will often request Google to remove areas from its libraries, and it does so. I’ve seen this on even larger scales in various areas such as the middle east, where airports and towns are completely air-brushed out - but these effects are in fact quite evident in the images…

Whatever happened in Oakland Estuary, however, is something completely different… all ships are completely absent, with no sign of image modification… and except for the Coast Guard base to the east, there is nothing secure about any of this traffic… that’s why I’m so mystified by all this…

1 Like

Interesting… I just went down to check out LA/LB, and the same thing is true there; the ships waiting at sea are visible, but all docks are empty… this definitely indicates intentional editing, because even in the depths of early covid, LA/LB was always busy…

So nobody has heard anything about anyone intentionally asking Google to remove ships from the maps?? As I said before, this just started happening in the past few months, before that, the moored ships were always visible in those images…

Here’s another interesting point… I just looked at Coronado Island and San Diego naval stations, and all the moored military ships are shown… including the huge carriers with all their planes on deck… so whatever is going on, is only effecting commercial shipping, maybe (??) only on the West Coast?? I don’t really know where else to look around here…

What @freighterman1 is saying is not that the ships are being removed from the photos but that the algorithm used to filter selects the photos with no ships because a ship being along side is temporary.

It’s not about the ships being there or not it’s about having a nice clean image of the shoreline for mapping.

ummm… okay… so why did they just start doing this recently?? And why only on a selected handful of locations??

I have seen instances of other types of what appears to be obscuring parts of photos, like this one near my house:

1 Like

You mean there isn’t actually a building there?

Don’t know it it pertains, but…

I just looked at a Google street view of Manhattan. An area infamous of bumper-to-bumper traffic at any given time. But judging from the photo, the streets are nearly deserted. Most of the vehicles shown are parked. I did the same thing with Seattle. Streets empty. So, an algorithm is removing the moving vehicles.

Why ships are removed from some ports and not others? In a Google map of Singapore the ships alongside docks or in channels are included. But the ships (thousands seemingly) at anchor are quite blurry compared to the ships at docks, which are much sharper. As if someone is decided the ships at anchor aren’t important to the map.

So perhaps the closer you get to Silicon Valley and Redmond WA, where the software developers work, the more the you will see their hand refining their satellite-image-products to more closely resemble a map versus a photo. We are interested in the ships, but they are just interested in the land. (Theory.)

There is, but they obscured the roof, and the lower edge of the building is a single straight line, not stepped like the photo. No idea what’s on the roof they might be obscuring.


Maybe the pictures were taken during Covid?

As far as ships at anchor, google has never had the resolution offshore as they have on land, so it could just be that.

Well, okay… there’s really not much else to be accomplished here; I looked at some of the other U.S. container ports, and I see the same thing everywhere… bulkers and other smaller boats are still shown, but the long, straight docks for container ships and car carriers are simply bare - in every single port!! It’s just bizarre… Seattle, Mobile, New York, and a couple of others, all are like that.

Another edit that I noted, is that on some of the container docks, the colorful piles of containers have been deleted, leaving just bare white platforms!! I definitely can assure you that the west end of the container dock at Oakland Estuary has never been completely empty… So someone at Google is apparently doing this intentionally, though I cannot imagine any purpose to it…

Interesting. Google a street map of Seatac, Seattle’s airport. Always busy. Plenty of planes on the runways. But in the image they are empty, except for one token plane in a waiting area. The busy streets near the airport–also empty of vehicles. Impossible.

Harbor Island/SODO, Seattle’s container port, empty of containers and ships. Also, the busy streets of SODO are empty of moving vehicles. So all the moving objects are being excised–containers, cars, ships.

Leaving something that functions more like a map and less like a photo.

1 Like

Yeah, that’s exactly what I’m reacting to !!
And while you say “functions more like a map”, these modifications are in areas where a symbolic map is of little practical value, so why go through all the trouble??

Also, in the case of Harbor Island, WA, all of those images were shot on 8/16/2020 (that data is visible on Google Earth, but not on Google Maps), for all of those docks… that was late in the first covid year, when container ships were stacked up for weeks in all ports, waiting to unload… containers were stacked everywhere, because they were short of longshoremen to move things, while millions of people were stuck at home ordering stuff because they had nothing else to do… empty docks and berths are the last thing that makes any sense…

[ oh… one possible thought about the vehicle traffic: 8/16/2020 was a Sunday, so arguably the light traffic on freeways might be credible… but the rest is still up for speculation ]