Container ship blocks Suez Canal hitting world trade

A massive container ship is currently blocking the Suez Canal, one of the busiest global shipping routes. Marine and salvage engineers tried and failed to dislodge the enormous ship on Thursday (25 March 2021) but the company, Evergreen Marine who operates the ship have said that it could take weeks before the ship is dislodged.

It became stuck on Tuesday after a sudden gust of wind and a dust storm. The blockage is causing a tailback of ships to form, all waiting to get through. Around 12% of global trade passes through Suez Canal as it provides a short sea link between Europe and Asia. 

There is another route that goes around the southern tip of Africa but that makes for a much longer journey.

The question now is how long can this route be blocked as a long delay would lead to problems for businesses – delaying of goods and fuel.

What’s happening currently with this container shows what exactly can go wrong with the enormous ships like Ever Given to pass through the narrow canal, even though parts of it were expanded it remains tricky to navigate especially for bigger ships. 

To give an idea of how big it is – it has the capacity to carry 20,000 20ft (6 meter) containers, 400 meters long, 59 meters wide and weighs 219,076 tonnes. This means it’s blocking access for any ship to pass in both directions since the canal isn’t wide enough 

Almost 19,000 ships passed through the canal in 2020, according to the Suez Canal Authority. The canal itself crosses the Suez Isthmus in Egypt, which between the Mediterranean and the Red Sea.

The episode highlights the vulnerability of the global supply lines on which the international capitalist system is built. While the wholesale transfer of industry and manufacturing to the second and third world might have been good for corporate profits, it threatens massive dislocation and chaos in the case of any disruption.

Jenny Smith is a member of the YCL’s Birmingham Branch

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