10 Facts about the Suez Canal & Its ‘Traffic Jam’ Simplified for You

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I think we can all agree that traffic jams are bad news.

When a traffic jam occurred on the PIE, you’ll find your travel time affected, sometimes even by hours if you’re smack-dab in the middle of the expressway.

But what happens if the traffic jam didn’t take place on the road, but out on the waters?

Infinitely worse, you’d guess.

And this March 2021, we’re now learning how bad it can be.

Here are 10 facts about the Suez Canal and its “traffic jam” you’d want to know.

1. The Suez Canal

The Suez Canal is an artificial sea-level waterway in Egypt connecting the Mediterranean Sea to the Red Sea, offering the shortest sea link between Asia and Europe.

Image: Wikipedia

Officially opened in 1869, the canal allows cargo ships a more direct route between the North Atlantic and northern Indian oceans, reducing the journey by almost 9,000km.

Or, 8 to 10 days.

In 2020, 81,500 vessels crossed the canal.

That’s an average of 51.5 vessels per day.

In other words, it’s a VVITR (Very Very Important Trade Route).

Unfortunately, it ran into a big problem this week.

2. The Accident

On Tuesday (23 Mar), a 400-metre-long, 200,000-tone vessel, MV Ever Given, ran aground.

The ship was on its journey from China to the Netherlands and when it ran aground, blocking the entire canal.


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It was reported that during the time of the accident, there were high winds and a sandstorm, affecting visibility.

According to WSJ, the captain was navigating the “critical chokepoint for global shipping” with two Egyptian pilots when a gust of wind turned the vessel.

According to people who heard the conversation, the captain had shouted to keep the ship “steady” before the bow crashed into the eastern wall of the canal.

Another officer could be heard saying they’re “stuck big time”.

3. “Suez Canal Jam”

With the canal traffic in both directions choked, the worst shipping jams ever seen in years was created.

This image was taken by a Copernicus Sentinel-1 satellite on 21 Mar 2021.

Are you angry at someone now, and can’t get him or her out of your mind? Well, watch this video and you’ll know what to do next:

Image: European Space Agency

While there were vessels waiting, traffic was still normal.

But on 25 Mar 2021, two days after the accident happened, ships are now spotted stuck just outside the Suez Canal, waiting for the waterway to be cleared.


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Image: European Space Agency

According to BBC, about 237 vessels were waiting in the area on Friday (26 Mar).

107 are waiting at the Port Suez in the Red Sea, 41 at the canal’s midway point and 89 at Port Said in the Mediterranean.

4. Recovery Efforts

No expenses were spared in the recovery effort.

On 25 Mar 2021, it was reported that eight tugboats were deployed to work on moving the vessel.


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Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi’s seaports adviser, Mohab Mamish said “maritime navigation will resume again within 48-72 hours, maximum”.

However, salvage companies warned that the situation could take weeks to resolve.

In the worst-case scenario, the vessel might need to have its containers unload, which numbers 17,000, according to WSJ.

If that was to happen, it’ll take weeks to resolve.

Peter Berdowski, CEO of Dutch company Boskalis, one of the companies trying to free the ship, said the operation might take weeks “depending on the situation”.


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5. Latest Recovery Attempt Failed

On Friday, the attempt to refloat the stranded ship failed.

In the operation, tugboats and dredgers were used to crush rocks, hoping to dislodge the boat.

According to Egypt’s Suez Canal Authority, between 15,000 and 20,000 cubic metres of sand have to be removed to refloat the ship.

Operations would resume on Saturday, sources said.

Two additional tugboats will arrive on 28 Mar 2021 to assist in the efforts.


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6. US President Joe Biden Offers To Help

It’s not just the Egyptians who are worried about the blockage.

With so many ships jammed at one of the world’s most important sea route, even the US is getting involved.

On 27 Mar 2021, it was reported that US President Joe Biden has offered a pledge to help.

His administration is looking at what it could do to help, he says.

“We have the equipment and capacity that most countries don’t have. And we are seeing what help we can be.”

A US official said the US navy is prepared to send a team of dredging experts to the canal.


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However, they’re waiting for approval from the local authorities.

7. Costly Traffic Jam

According to a study by German insurer Allianz, the blockage could cost global trade US$6 billion to 10 billion a week.

It’s expected that manufacturing and car parts suppliers will be most affected.

Which isn’t surprising, actually, considering that 12% of the global trade of all goods passes through the canal.

While there’s an alternative route around the Cape of Good Hope, it’ll add another two weeks to the journey.


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Shipping rates for oil product tankers nearly doubled and more than 30 container ships carrying retail goods were stuck in the jam.

8. Impact on Oil & Gas

There is also a possibility of gas prices increasing as about 600,000 barrels of crude oil passes through the canal daily from the Middle East to the US and Europe.

Oil rose over 3% on Friday with over 30 oil tankers waiting on either side of the canal since Tuesday.

9. Company & Insurers Facing Hefty Bills

It’s not just costly for the world trade; the company of MV Ever Given and its insurers could face claims totally millions of dollars from the Suez Canal Authority for the loss of revenue, and other ships for disruption.

After all, because of the vessel, more than 200 ships had their schedule delayed, and there’s a risk of disruption to the world’s shipping schedules.


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10. Internet Jokes

As with anything on the internet, you can make a joke out of everything.

Netizens out there could resist making a joke out of the incident.

Of course, you’d probably have expected memes to pile on the internet like the ships at the Suez Canal.


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For those who want a clear “yes” or “no” answer to the latest update on the Suez Canal, you can check out the website Is The Ship Still Stuck.

Other than a simple yes or no, there’s also a counter detailing how long it’s been, and how much it cost.

Feature Image: European Space Agency

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