For more than 150 years, the Suez Canal has been the fastest shipping route between Asia and Europe, and a key artery of the global economy. According to one estimate, more than 9 percent of international trade passes through the 120-mile canal. In 2019, it handled more than 19,000 vessels carrying 1.2 billion tons of cargo.
Right now, on the other hand, nobody is getting through the canal because a great big ship got stuck in it:
The canal’s most relevant dimension at the moment is its width, a scant 205 meters. A 400-meter-long ship named the Ever Given, which is owned by the Taiwanese shipping company Evergreen and is carrying hundreds of containers from China to Rotterdam, slewed sideways and ran aground on Tuesday just north of the port of Suez as it was traveling toward the Mediterranean. It had reportedly suffered a blackout.
Traffic has piled up behind the Ever Given, and tugs and diggers are currently working to dislodge it. In the children’s book version of this story, the Ever Given is learning lessons in humility and the importance of working together with others right now.
In the Instagram photo above, reportedly taken from another ship in the canal, the Maersk Denver, and on the live ship-tracking website VesselFinder, the ship appears to be wedged sideways, blocking traffic in both directions. It’s a little like doing a really bad job parallel parking, except that a good chunk of the global economy grinds to a halt while you try to work yourself free.
The Ever Given is one of the largest cargo ships in the world—59 meters wide, to go with that 400-meter length. Ships this size have successfully transited the canal before, but there’s not a lot of margin for error.
In 2015, Egypt opened a new expansion of the canal. At a cost of $8.4 billion, it was a major prestige project for the government of President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi, and it added a second lane to accommodate two-way traffic. Still not big enough, evidently.
The Ever Given still has a long way to go to break the record for being stuck in the canal. Fourteen ships were stranded in the waterway for eight years after the Six Day War in 1967.