The Ever Given, the ship that launched a thousand memes, is floating free again seven days after running aground in the Suez Canal, bringing billions of dollars in global trade to a halt. A flotilla of tugboats managed to pull the 220,000-ton container ship away from the bank of the canal, aided by the extra-high spring tide. As of late afternoon Egypt time, the tracking site VesselFinder shows the Even Given finally pointed in the right direction and heading slowly north toward the Great Bitter Lake—which separates the northern and southern sections of the canal—where it will undergo inspections.
Egyptian President Abdel Fattah El-Sisi, tweeted triumphantly on Monday, “Today, the Egyptians have succeeded in ending the crisis of the delinquent ship in the Suez Canal despite the tremendous technical complexity that surrounded this process from every side.”
The Panama-flagged, Japanese-owned, 400-meter-long ship went off course March 23 as a result of high winds and low visibility. Bloomberg has reported that it was not employing tugboats while transiting the canal, as ships often do. The Ever Given also appeared to speed up as it veered off course, perhaps trying to correct itself, which is one reason it became lodged so deeply in the bank of the canal. Ships this size regularly pass through the canal without drama, even in bad weather, but the incident is likely to lead to calls for new safety procedures.
The Suez Canal says traffic through the canal can resume immediately, but the impact on the global shipping industry is going to take some time to sort out, in part because dozens of ships already decided to take the long way around Africa rather than wait for the canal to clear up. Twelve percent of global trade passes through the canal and more than 360 ships were stranded while crews worked to dislodge the Ever Given from the canal, affecting goods ranging from Ikea furniture to livestock.
Over the past week, the struggles of the Ever Given became an object of global fascination and internet amusement. For one thing, it was a rare massive global disruption during which—in stark contrast to the pandemic that also stretched global supply lines—no one was hurt.
The Suez saga rendered tangible and unmissable the often-hidden infrastructure upon which our modern economy of just-in-time manufacturing and one-click ordering relies. Or maybe big boats are just fun.