Canal crisis in Suez

The Suez Canal in Egypt is a man-made 120-mile waterway that connects the Mediterranean Sea to the Red Sea, cutting north-south across the Isthmus of Suez in Egypt. After 10 years of labor and 1.5 million workers, the canal was completed within the 19th century. It enabled a more direct route for transporting goods and materials between Europe and Asia. This allows for the passage from the North Atlantic to the Indian Ocean without having to go around Africa. The canal saves time in transportation and saves money for industries that are transporting goods.

On the morning of March 23, 2021, “The Ever Given”, a 1,300-foot Japanese-owned container ship, was on its way to Europe from China and got stuck in the Suez Canal for six days. According to an article from The New York Times, the cargo ship was the length of four soccer fields. powerful winds from a sandstorm that struck most of Northern Egypt caused poor visibility and forced “The Ever Given” aground onto one of the canal’s banks. The massive stuck ship produced a large traffic jam in “one of the world’s most important maritime arteries,” (Yee, Vivian, and Peter S. Goodman. “Suez Canal Blocked After Giant Container Ship Gets Stuck” The New York Times, A.G. Sulzberger, 24 March 2021). The canal carried roughly 12% of global shipping and 80% of the world’s trade in goods in marine shipping, according to foreignpolicy.com.

By the next morning, more than 100 ships were stuck at each end of the vast canal. This is potentially detrimental to the economy, as the vessels carried various goods that were expected to arrive at their destinations as planned without delay. One of the vessels included an oil tanker carrying about 1/10th of a day’s total global oil consumption. If the block wasn’t freed in a few days, it would’ve added another burden to the global shipping industry already struggling from the coronavirus pandemic, creating delays, higher prices for consumers and shortages of goods. 

In attempts to free the massive “The Ever Given” from the canal’s banks, numerous tugboats tried to wrench the colossal cargo ship free and dredgers struggled to dig it out from under the canal’s eastern embankment where “The Ever Given’s” bow was wedged beneath mud and sand. The enormous size and continuous high winds only further complicated the effort to free “The Ever Given”.

Eventually on March 29, 2021, shortly after 3 pm, “The Ever Given” wiggled free out of its containment and allowed the 400 vessels waiting to resume on their routes. According to Vivian Yee on nytimes.com, the aftermath of the Suez Canal Crisis will cost the global supply chain industry a cascade of pricey delays and will leave them with much to assess: the size of container ships, the width of the Suez Canal, the role of human error, and the logic of relying on “just-in-time” manufacturing to satisfy global consumer demand.