Huge ship blocking the Suez Canal has been moved – what happens next?

The Suez Canal, among the busiest shipping channels on earth, is recovering after being blocked by a vast container ship that was wedged sideways. Will global trade be upset?

What has happened?

On 23 March, a vast container ship called the Ever Given, on its way from the Yantian district of China to Rotterdam in holland, became lodged in the southern end of the Suez Canal, an artificial channel through Egypt that connects the MEDITERRANEAN AND BEYOND to the Red Sea. Efforts to unblock the canal on 24 March saw the ship partially freed and pulled alongside the lender but traffic is yet to resume. The ship weighs 220,000 tonnes and is 400 metres long, so moving it had been no small feat.


The blockage quickly caused a tailback of 100 ships and more are coming to the canal on a regular basis. Thankfully, no injuries have already been reported and there are usually no fuel or oil leaks from the ship, but its bow was firmly lodged into the bank of the canal.

How achieved it get stuck?

The ship was sent off course by a sudden gust of wind, according to its owners Evergreen Marine Corp. It could be hard to assume a breeze moving a ship that weighs so much, but its huge length and height give it a massive surface. Local forecasts show that winds have already been gusting at up to 50 kilometres per hour.

How important may be the Suez Canal?

When the Suez first opened in 1869, it slashed the distance for ships travelling from the Arabian Sea to London by 8900 kilometres, which makes it a significant trading route. Indeed, it is hard to convey how important the canal is for international trade. In ’09 2009, Egypt received a lot more than $4 billion in passage service fees from shipping companies. Last year alone it was utilized by 19,000 ships and 13 per cent of global trade passed through it in 2019.

Following an expansion in 2015 it now has parallel canals, one for southbound traffic and one for northbound, along 35 kilometres of its length. Unfortunately this incident occurred at a point where there is merely one channel.

Read more: Global shipping needs to tidy up its act now – here’s how exactly to do it

Can the ship be rescued?

Efforts already are under way, however the question is how long it will require to totally recover. Sal Mercogliano at Campbell University in NEW YORK told BBC Radio 4 that ships have been stuck in the canal before, but that none have been as large as the Ever Given. The ship is reportedly waiting to be refloated and shifted.

What will the knock-on effect be?

This depends heavily on how long before ships can start moving as normal. There are alternative routes. Actually, because of the increase in piracy off the coast of Somalia, some companies have already been taking the good way around Africa, via the Cape of Good Hope. And shrinking sea ice, while a worrying sign of climate change, has made some previously impassable passages in the Arctic a choice. But these options add time and distance to journeys.

One immediate effect was a growth in oil futures of just one 1.3 % when news of the grounding emerged, admittedly coming after a series of drops in the purchase price. Tankers regularly use the canal to ship oil from the center East to Europe and the united states, therefore the rise is an indicator that traders fear shipments will be disrupted.

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