Suez Canal blockade

Maritime trade is severely impacted as 1,300-foot Ever Given container ship becomes lodged in one of the world’s busiest shipping lanes

Photo by DPA.

— 3 minute read — By Will Jones

It took 10 years, the skilled labour of 1.5 million workers, and many regional conflicts to construct the Suez Canal in the 1800s, and in one day, the colossal Ever Given container vessel brought it to a standstill.

On 23rd March, the Ever Given ran aground in the waterway. Facing high winds and poor visibility, the vessel careered across the canal, its bow becoming beached on the bank and the stern drifting out to form a total blockade. Owned by the Japanese shipping company Evergreen, the incident prompted a huge week-long re-floating operation.

The enormous quarter-mile length of the Ever Given hampered efforts to reopen the canal, extending the operation to the following Monday, when, at last, the vessel was re-floated.

The Suez Canal is one of the world’s busiest shipping lanes. Cutting through the small stretch of land between the two Egyptian cities of Port Said and Suez, the canal links the Mediterranean Sea to the Red Sea. When it opened in 1869, the canal rapidly altered the speed and ease of trade between Europe and Asia. This benefit remains to this day; no longer do ships have to voyage around the Cape of Good Hope in southern Africa. The Suez constitutes the fastest maritime route between the two continents.

The 1,300-foot vessel saw the temporary end to this trade route. The blockage affected over 300 other vessels, who either had to wait outside the canal entrances or brave the historic journey around the southerly headland of the African continent.

Suez Canal: Ship refloated as workers resume pulling operations
Photo by Maxar Technologies.

Salvage teams worked on freeing the Ever Given for six days, dredging sand and rock from either end of the vessel and utilising tugboats in an attempt to shift it from its diagonal position. A front-end loader was also used to excavate the eastern embankment in an attempt to free the beached section of the bow. On the following Monday afternoon, the blaring of tugboat horns signalled the re-floating of all 200,000 metric tonnes of ship.

This was not before the Ever Given had wreaked havoc on global trade, though. Shipping analysts estimate that the blockage held up nearly $10 billion in maritime trade every day. The end-to-end navigation of the Suez takes between 13 and 15 hours which is still considerably shorter than the weeks it takes to voyage around the Cape of Good Hope. The waiting time, or change in route for hundreds of container ships, has severely impacted shipping companies worldwide.

Fortunately, the casualties of this incident remain purely monetary – the 25 crew members, who are all Indian nationals, remain safe and “in good health and spirits” despite the arduous freeing exercise, a spokesperson disclosed.

A report will now be conducted into how a ship the length of the Empire State Building became stuck and was able to so extensively impact maritime trade.