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The Suez Canal is blocked: Here’s why that matters



Julianne Cona/Instagram

Egypt’s Suez Canal is one of the world’s most important waterways. Located 75 miles east of Cairo, it links the Mediterranean Sea to the Red Sea, allowing for direct shipping from Europe to Asia. Roughly 12% of the world’s shipping traffic goes through the man-made canal, which has become particularly vital following pandemic related disruptions to shipping. 

That’s why it’s a big deal that a 1,312-foot-long cargo ship named Ever Given has become stuck across the Suez Canal. With the waterway blocked, and attempts to move the cargo ship unsuccessful thus far, the fallout could reverberate around the world. 

What’s happened? 

Ever Given is a 2 million ton cargo ship that spans a quarter mile, roughly the length of four football fields. On Tuesday, just before 8 a.m., strong gusts of wind knocked it off course. En route to Rotterdam from China, it was holding around 20,000 shipping containers of cargo when it became wedged in the canal’s east bank.

“The accident is mainly due to the lack of visibility resulting from bad weather conditions as the country passes through a dust storm, with wind speed reaching 40 knots,” Suez Canal Authority head Osama Rabie said in a statement. 

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Planet Labs

None of the staff on board were injured, according to the ship’s technical manager, Bernhard Schulte Shipmanagement. But the task of extricating the Ever Given is momentous. The Suez Canal Authority, a government organization that runs and maintains the canal, has deployed a gang of tugboats to pull the Ever Given out of its predicament, but the strategy has yet to prove successful.

“BSM’s immediate priorities are to safely refloat the vessel and for marine traffic in the Suez Canal to safely resume,” BSM said in a statement. “The continued efforts of the Suez Canal Authority and those involved in re-floating operations are greatly appreciated.” 

As the tugboats continue to attempt to extract the ship, Smit Salvage, a renowned maritime rescue company, has been hired to assist.

“It will be critical to inspect the vessel and how deeply it is lodged in the embankment,” a spokesperson said. “The question is how solidly she has been grounded.” 

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Screenshot from Vesselfinder

What does this mean? 

“Ship in front of us ran aground while going through the canal and is now stuck sideways,” Julianne Cona wrote on Instagram as she snapped a photo of Ever Given from her own cargo ship, “looks like we might be here for a little bit.”

It’s one of approximately 100 ships that were stuck in the bottleneck by Wednesday morning, reports The New York Times. Around 50 ships pass through the Canal each day, according to official statistics. 

Shipping companies now face a dilemma: wait for the Ever Given to be floated or divert around the Horn of Africa, another sea route that links Europe and Asia. The latter option would delay shipments by up to 14 days. 

Such delays could cause severe shortages, as the global shipping industry is already beset by a lack of shipping containers and other complications arising from the COVID-19 pandemic. Oil is particularly vulnerable to the blockage, with the Suez Canal being a key route for transporting oil from the Middle East to Asia and Europe. Brent crude oil, the price of which is used as an international benchmark, rose 2.85% after news of the Ever Given’s plight broke. 

Local officials hope the issue can be resolved within days, but longer delays would make oil price spikes the beginning of the world’s trouble.

“We’re talking about vaccines, manufacturing goods, food, everything. It’s potential catastrophic delays,” Sal Mercogliano, associate professor at Campbell University, said in a statement to media. 

Has this happened before?

Yes.

Following mechanical issues, a Japanese vessel became lodged in the ground under the canal water in 2017. Tugboats refloated the ship within hours. A year prior, the CSCL Indian Ocean spent five days aground before being pulled out by tugboats. 





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