A Maritime Crisis: How a Stranded Vessel Affected the World Economy
The Ever Given, a 200,000 tonne, Japanese-owned container ship—on its route from China to Europe—got stuck in the Suez Canal for nearly six days, before a spun-out attempt to unblock the shipping thoroughfare took place on Monday, March 29. News of the incident reverberated globally within a few hours since the blockage meant a massive setback to the shipping industry and the world economy, both of which are heavily reliant on the steady flow of goods.
The ship, operated by Evergreen Shipping, is one of the world’s largest containers—almost equalling the Empire State Building in height. Battered by gusts of wind and minimal visibility, it ran aground on March 23, making both the Japanese and Egyptian authorities scramble for days. A few other ships decided to put a hold on their sail due to weather warnings about the strong winds and desert sandstorms; the Ever Given, however, refused to do so. While two comparatively smaller container ships that sailed before it employed tug boats, the Ever Given seemed to have fallen behind in this too. There’s also the factor of how fast the ship was sailing. When the ship started drifting towards the sand, it appeared to have sped up, perhaps to correct the situation, but alas, it ultimately collided on the banks of the canal.
The ramifications of the blockage were visible on the global trade, leaving hundreds of ships stranded or waiting to pass through. The canal sees about 12% of the world’s seaborne trade. This blockage hence meant a hike in the price of crude oil, which is a common commodity shipped through these channels. The canal acts as a vital shipment route, providing a more direct and time-efficient way connecting Asia to Europe, discarding the need to circumvent Africa. The nearly 120-mile long canal has been a tinderbox for political and geographical conflicts since its opening in 1869. It faced a similar crisis, albeit under different circumstances, when it was closed for eight years from 5th June 1967 to 5th June 1975, at the start of the Six-Day War of 1967.
The present situation landed itself on the news and received such widespread attention since this blockage—affecting more than 300 ships that got stuck in the gridlock—had serious consequences. An estimated $9 billion of trade was being held up everyday. Before the final rescue, the total losses incurred added up to around $54 billion. In addition to that, an already slow economy owing to the pandemic made matters worse for global trade.
A torrent of unforgettable memes—the internet’s reaction.
The internet was quick to react to this crucial, globally-impactful event. In the usual unspoken solidarity users exhibit, the situation quickly incited various public reactions—from comics and tweets to Reddit threads, people had a lot to say about the hilarity of the crisis. With opinions varying from metaphors of the current social statement of literally being ‘stuck’ during a pandemic, to hilarious solutions for dislodging the ship, the internet has found comic relief in this.
Memes pages were a little too quick, and tweets a little too anxious to make their way into our phones. With all the coldness the pandemic has brought in its wake, the situation took just a few hours to turn from ‘devastating’ to ‘hilarious’.
Memes have come to stand for satirical yet complex political statements that tackle any issue, from Presidential elections to a blockage incurring losses running into millions of dollars. Moreover, in this case, it was an occasion that tied up Bernie Sanders’s mittens, jokes about faulty sailing skills, and precarious office humor all under the umbrella of the ship.
Many users also posted pictures featuring characters like Popeye, the Sailor Man, claiming that the character was responsible for the blockage. It’s not uncommon for the internet to turn any situation into a philosophical, nihilistic outlook that summarizes life’s bleak reality. Owing to its allegiance to such thinking, images of two workers and a digger attempting to claw into the sandy shores of the Ever Given’s predicament went viral.
The Canal Finally Reopens: Mother Nature and a Skillful Crew Work Hand-in-hand
What eventually did work for this rather interesting display of the captain’s parallel parking skills? On March 29th, the BBC reported, “The course of the 400m-long (1,300ft) Ever Given has been corrected by 80%, according to the Suez Canal Authority.” This meant that an estimated $9.6 billion worth of goods could now resume movement.
The ship started refloating on Monday which gave some glimmer of hope that the traffic might soon resume in the canal. Rescue teams had been working on both land and water for six days straight, dredging sand and pushing out rock from both ends of the ship. Tugboats accompanied by a high spring tide eventually managed to move the vessel. Salvagers tried several remedies including pulling the ship with tugboats, dredging underneath the hull, and using a front-end loader to excavate the east embankment, where the ship’s bow was hinged. But the ship’s enormous size and weight made those efforts strenuous.
Initial reasons ascribed for it getting stuck were “high winds and a large dust storm,” as the ship reportedly traveled “5 knots faster than permitted.” Mother nature forgivingly came to the rescue when the moon and the high tides, which resulted in a “king tide,” rewarded the movers with favorable conditions to propel their rescue attempts forward. The Dutch firm Boskalis, an essential assistant in the mission, said that two “powerful seagoing tugs” aided in the freeing.
On Monday afternoon, tugboat horns blared as the ship began moving on its own again, finally shifting from its diagonal position across the canal. The canal saw normal operations after what were a frenzied six days, allowing world trade to resume, albeit limpingly.
The Egyptian Team of the Tug boat “Mashhour” (pronounced mash- hoor) celebrates the success of freeing the #EverGiven After it got stuck in the Suez Canal.
They are chanting: Mashhour is number 1” pic.twitter.com/kZfFYvLP5f
— Anas Alhajji (@anasalhajji) March 29, 2021
The Tide Always Turns: What Next?
And thus, a nearly week-long saga to dislodge the ship stuck in the Suez Canal came to an end. Authorities expect operations to return to normal within a few days. The Egyptian government, insurers, manufacturers, and shippers wait for further answers. Responsibility for the incident will be determined after carrying out an investigation to find out the culpable. It is likely that the repercussions will involve years of litigation to cover the cost of repairing the broken canal, the ship, and reimburse the damaged goods it carried.
Tim Huxley, the director of Mandarin Shipping, affirmed that it “will take quite a while to get back to normal.” While the world curiously awaits for further information, one thing that has been anchored in the minds of people lies in the reflection of the current economic climate. The event has brought forth a glaring statement about the weak infrastructure of global trade, while authorities also confirm that the impact will be felt for “months to come.”
Written by Adil Khan and Aishwarya Sabarinath for MTTN
Edited by Avaneesh Jai Damaraju for MTTN
Featured Image courtesy VesselFinder