The Suez Canal shortens cargo transit between Europe and Asia by weeks, but it is hard to navigate. Massive ships carry thousands of containers down the relatively narrow, not-so-deep canal. An accident – like the giant ship Ever Given going aground and blocking the canal – causes an economic riptide. As Kit Chellel, Matthew Campbell and K. Oanh Ha report in Bloomberg Businessweek, this accident stalled billions in goods and paralyzed the just-in-time supply chain.
Navigating the Suez Canal can be tricky, and contemporary container ships are massive.
The container ship Ever Given coursed across the Red Sea under windy conditions and lined up to enter the Suez Canal. On March 23, 2021, it was one of 13 ships in the queue to make the 12-hour journey from the Red Sea to the Mediterranean.
Navigating the Suez Canal is challenging because the canal is only 656 feet wide at most and less than 80 feet deep. Today’s container ships are gigantic. The Ever Given was the largest ship in the line, carrying more than 17,000 containers and a billion dollars’ worth of goods, with its keel relatively close to the canal’s bottom. Ever Given’s captain and crew had no room for mistakes or unpredictable weather.
Suez Canal Authority (SCA) pilots help ships navigate the canal, but ships must sail even in bad weather.
Suez Canal Authority pilots board ships at the Canal’s entrance. The pilots don’t drive or steer ships. They advise the captain and coordinate with a Suez Canal Authority station to manage a cohort of ships and ensure their safe and speedy passage. Each year, 19,000 ships...
Kit Chellel is a senior writer for Bloomberg Businessweek based in London, England. Matthew Campbell, the Asia Editor for Bloomberg Businessweek, writes about international politics and business. K. Oanh Ha is a senior reporter covering Asia for Bloomberg Businessweek.