The Suez Canal Crisis

THE EVER GIVEN was finally dislodged from the Suez Canal after days of blocked transportation. Maxar Technologies

Reaghan Mulligan | Opinion Editor

April 1, 2021

Sizing at 1,300 feet long, the Japanese container ship, The Ever Given, is one of the world’s largest shipment vessels. On a voyage from China to Europe, the giant ship became grounded in a widely used, 120-mile-long waterway known as the Suez Canal.

MAP OF THE SUEZ CANAL. National Army Museum

The Suez Canal connects Port Said, Egypt to the Indian Ocean, and has been in use for over 100 years. It is the world’s longest canal, and it traffics around 50 containerships per day, making it vital for international trade. The Canal is believed to be responsible for 10-30% of international maritime shipments, meaning that blockage of this essential waterway has extreme  consequences.

The Ever Given, carrying 18,300 containers in its body, became diagonally lodged in the waterway, blocking every exit and entrance for other vessels passing through. Wind speed and visibility—amongst other to-be investigated potential causes—are currently being blamed for the grounding of this massive carrier. From March 23 to March 29, the boat remained stuck, creating a detrimental traffic jam. This 200,000 metric-tons ship held up more than 300 vessels filled to the brim with global shipments.

“I think the canal itself is managed well, but to prevent further issues, mandatory use of engines and stricter spacing should be implemented,” junior Max Silva said. “Identifying causes for these issues can prevent further problems with travel—a simple blocking of the canal may hurt the world economy.”

THIS MASSIVE CONTAINER SHIP held thousands of shipments meant to be distributed globally. EPA

Over the course of multiple days, tugboats and salvagers worked relentlessly to free the boat from its position. They attempted to pull the ship from its lodge and clear sand and rocks potentially gluing the boat in its position, but the immense size of The Ever Given made this removal an incredibly difficult task.

Luckily, with much-expended effort, the ship was freed at around midday on March 29. However, it will take multiple days to get vessel traffic back to normal. Expert with the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development, Jan Hoffman, estimates that such heavy congestion may even take months to resume its regular flow, additionally due to the potential mass arrival of ships at ports in Europe. And current stress on sailors and companies due to the pandemic is only being exacerbated because of the backlog.

While an event like this seems relatively insignificant to the public eye, even a few days of boat traffic has drastic effects on international shipment transportation. An estimated ten billion dollars of trade was held up every day of the blockage, according to shipping analysts via The New York Times. This means that over the six-day halted period some $60 billion worth of cargo was put on hold. Some vessels chose to reroute to avoid the traffic buildup, meaning over a week would be added to their trip by taking a secondary route around the Cape of Good Hope at the southern tip of Africa. 

“As demonstrated by this fiasco, if something goes wrong in any of the major canals, it can cause serious damage to our global economy,” senior Megan Moe said, speculating the incident. “So, we need to ensure that all the canals are stable and nothing will go wrong to the best of our abilities, perhaps through a reconstruction of infrastructure.”

Numerous companies are stuck waiting for the arrival of the container ships, many of them carrying food products, mechanical equipment, amongst other high-demand items. Perishable items may now be completely worthless due to the extensive and unexpected amount of time spent in transport, losing immense sums of money for different corporations. 

Many takeaways can be had from the grounding of The Ever Given, hopefully providing a deeper understanding of the detrimental effects that even a short blockage of an international waterway can have on the economy.

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