What Just Happened in the Suez Canal?
By Lulwa Taqi
Last Tuesday, one of the world’s largest cargo ships, the Ever Given, inadvertently caused a traffic jam in the Suez Canal—blocking over 350 vessels carrying billions of dollars worth of goods, ranging from food to fuel. The Suez, which is 193.3 kilometers (120.1 miles) long, is one of the most vital arteries of global trade, as it links Asia’s factories to consumers in Europe and beyond. According to CNN, "more than 18,800 ships" transited through the Canal last year, which equates to "an average of 51.5 ships per day."
Before a strong wind blew the Ever Given off course, it was en route from China to the Netherlands. Although the Egyptian government swiftly dispatched specialists to free the vessel, it was widely feared that, despite their best efforts, it could take weeks to clear the Canal. According to Bloomberg, $9.6 billion worth of goods were being impeded each day.
Shipowners across the world were faced with a difficult decision: either wait for the Canal to reopen, or sail all the way around Africa (see left for a representation). At the height of the crisis, it was difficult to gauge which option would be more costly, in terms of both time and money.
Another factor that had to be considered was that, once the crisis was resolved, many of the formerly stranded ships could arrive at the same ports simultaneously, which would force them to wait even longer than usual to unload their cargo—resulting in further delays and losses.
Over the weekend, the Egyptian-led salvage teams made progress in terms of repositioning the Ever Given—which is larger than four soccer fields, and can carry up to 20,000 fully-loaded containers. Tugboats managed to move the ship 30 degrees in both directions; while, on land, excavation crews dredged 20,000 tonnes of sand and mud to further ease the process. However, the enormous vessel remained largely wedged in place. In light of those developments, Egypt’s President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi reportedly gave General Osama Rabie, the Chairman of the Suez Canal Authority, the “green light” to plan the removal of the ship’s 18,300 containers, in order to make the unwieldy vessel easier to maneuver. The General emphasized in his remarks to the media that time was of the essence, as he estimated that Egypt was losing up to $14 million each day that the Canal was closed.
Hours ago, a fleet of tugboats fully dislodged the Ever Given from the Suez Canal, without any cargo needing to be removed. As the New York Times noted, the salvage crews were “ultimately assisted by forces more powerful than any machine rushed to the scene: the moon and the tides.” After nearly a week, the 13% of global trade that relies on the Suez is finally able to resume its journey through.
As nations become more interdependent due to globalization (which encompasses internationalization), we all become more vulnerable to the uncertainties and fragilities that arise as a result. The situation in the Suez has put further strains on the shipping industry, which has already been overwhelmed by a pandemic that has radically reconfigured global trade and the politics surrounding it.
What just happened in the Suez proves how profoundly we depend on global trade, and how severe the consequences of it failing to function in the manner we have all grown accustomed to can be. Hopefully, this incident will encourage stakeholders to deepen their engagement in the ongoing dialogue about how to redesign globalization, in order to make it more efficient, inclusive, and eco-conscious in the post-pandemic world.
Lulwa Taqi is an intern at M74 from Kuwait. She is a recent graduate of Pace University in New York City, where she earned a bachelor’s degree in International Management and Economics. Her interests include the European Union’s integration policies, the Middle East’s geopolitical climate, and international trade.
The views expressed above are those of the author and do not reflect the official position of the M74 Group, which remains neutral on all matters. Publishers assume no liability for content.