Quarter-Mile Long Container Ship Blocks Dozens of Ships in Suez Canal

by Amy Lupica, ODP Staff Writer

A large container ship, the Ever Given, was knocked off course by strong winds and a sandstorm while traveling through the Suez Canal on Tuesday. The ship, which is nearly as long as the Empire State Building is tall, has halted marine traffic in one of the world’s busiest waterways, stalling 30% of the world’s container ship traffic. As of Wednesday, the number of waiting vessels is expected to reach 100, and officials say it will increase over time. “The Suez Canal is the choke point,” said Capt. John Konrad, a maritime expert. It “could not happen in a worse place, and the timing’s pretty bad, too.”

Why This Matters: 90% of the world’s goods are transported by ships and those scheduled to pass through the Suez Canal in the next few days carry goods that could have massive implications on the world economy.

  • One-tenth of the world’s daily oil consumption was expected to pass through this week. Not only will that oil not make it to its destination on time, but global prices could also increase.
  • The delays are also expected to have impacts on vaccine supply lines. 

The hold-up threatens to add another blow to the global economy that is only just now recovering from COVID-19 setbacks. Global trade plunged by 12% in April and May. Six months ago, shipping prices skyrocketed across the globe and buyers waited months for space on ships to become available for their orders. But in the second half of 2020, shipping surged again as companies deployed all available ships. This traffic jam drives home a point that the pandemic should’ve made clear: the global shipping industry needs some rethinking.  

The Canal Problem: Container ships have been growing in scale, but the Suez hasn’t been able to keep up. Although the Canal was widened several years ago, it wasn’t enough to relieve pressure on pilots navigating large ships.

Additionally, many ships are understaffed and don’t have technology on board that could assist in tight, complex navigation. Container ships are even more vulnerable to raging winds; containers stacked in great heights act as a metal sail, creating more surface area for the wind to push the ship awry.

Currently, eight tugboats are attempting to pull the Ever Given back into the water, but the 1,312-foot-long ship isn’t budging. If progress isn’t made soon, salvage crews will be tasked with removing shipping containers one-by-one and pumping out water tanks to lighten the vessel.

Meanwhile, the ships piling up behind the Ever Given may have to turn around and find other routes to their destinations. Alan Murphy, the founder of Sea-Intelligence said, “It would be a technical nightmare to try and get them out. And where do they go?”  


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