Suez Canal Ship Blockage

Yunese Amatya
May 19, 2021

The Suez Canal, a man-made waterway connecting the Mediterranean Sea to the Red Sea through the Isthmus of Suez, divides the continents of Africa and Asia in northern Egypt. Interest behind constructing the waterway began in 1854, when French diplomat Ferdinand de Lesseps secured an agreement with the Ottoman governor of Egypt to build a canal 100 miles across the Isthmus of Suez. In 1856, the Suez Canal Company organized to construct and operate the canal. Construction began in the spring of 1859 and finished in 1869. In November, 1869, the Suez Canal opened for operation. 

On the morning of March 23, 2021, the large container ship Ever Given became stuck in the Suez Canal, blocking dozens of other vessels. After being knocked off-course by strong winds, hitting the bottom of the canal, and running aground, the ship seemed irrevocably stuck. Ever Given, operated by the Taiwanese shipping company Evergreen and registered in Panama, is three years old, 400 meters (around 1312 feet) long, and 59 meters (around 194 feet) wide, weighing approximately 200,000 tons. On this particular trip, Ever Given sailed from China bound for the Netherlands. Because of the blockage, at least thirty ships could not transit the canal. Eight tug boats worked to refloat the ship while diggers on the ground attempted to remove sand around Ever Given’s hull. After six days, the ship finally floated free only to be impounded by Egyptian authorities. The crew all accounted for, suffered no casualties. 

This is not the first time such an incident has transpired. In 2017, a Japanese container vessel blocked the canal after running aground due to mechanical issues. However, the ship refloated after a few hours with aid from tug boats deployed by Egyptian authorities. While Ever Given was stuck, some ships took lengthy detours on their trade routes, while others waited to pass through the Suez Canal. Around fifty ships pass through the canal daily, which supports over 10% of global trade. The canal, especially significant for oil and liquified natural gas transportation, provides the shortest maritime route from the Middle East to Europe. As a result, Ever Given’s blockage presented noticeable ramifications for trade and product price. For example, after the ship got stuck, prices of crude oil rose 4% on international markets. Evidently, the trade industry’s new generation of ultra-large vessels can cause challenges in narrower channels such as the Suez Canal.

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