Stuck in the Suez Canal: Takeaways

Apr 5, 2021 | Your Source

When the Ever Given cargo ship became stuck in the Suez Canal, blocking the vital global shipping artery, it was big news—literally and figuratively. The canal connects the Mediterranean Sea to the Red Sea, making it the shortest maritime route to Asia from Europe. It carries 12% of global trade by volume and is one of several narrow choke-points critical to maritime shipping.

A series of nighttime images acquired with the Visible Infrared Imaging Radiometer Suite (VIIRS) on the Suomi NPP satellite, offers another view of ships waiting in the Gulf of Suez. The left image shows typical ship traffic in the Gulf of Suez on February 1, 2021. By March 27, the line of waiting ships stretched 72 kilometers (45 miles). Two days later, ships waited as far as 100 kilometers (60 miles) from the canal entry. NASA Earth Observatory images by Lauren Dauphin and Joshua Stevens.

Traveling from China to the Netherlands, the 220,000-ton, 400-meter ship carried 18,300 shipping containers when it turned sideways near the southern end of the canal on 23 March. It stayed there until 29 March, causing a “traffic jam” of 422 ships that could be seen from space.

Early reports suggested strong winds and poor visibility from a sandstorm were to blame, though as this article is written, the causes remain under investigation. Similarly, the full damages remain unknown. While the head of the Suez Canal Authority has estimated losses and damages could run up to a billion dollars, that number does not account for financial losses suffered by other ships stranded behind the Ever Given. It was estimated that the incident was holding up $9 billion in global trade each day.

While six days was quite long enough, in reality, it could have gone on much longer. Moving a ship this size was a massive undertaking that included around-the-clock dredging and repeated tugging operations, among other efforts. These efforts were also supported by none other than Mother Nature herself when high tides during the first super moon of the year provided slightly higher tides than normal.

The canal has now cleared the backlog of ships. Aside from figuring out how this happened and determining the damages, what more can we take from this event? From discussions on when a big ship is too big to implications for trade and security, here are some insights into the greater impacts of this event:


By Sharon Lo Managing Editor, Defense Transportation Journal and The Source

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