Story at a glance

  • Global supply lines took a major hit during the coronavirus pandemic, causing shortages across the world.
  • After a ship was caught in the Suez Canal, the blockage led to delays in billions of dollars of cargo.
  • Maersk, the world's biggest shipping company, said the backlog could take weeks or months to clear.

The Ever Given is finally free after blocking the Suez Canal for six days, but the saga isn’t over for this waterway, which accounts for about 30 percent of the world's daily shipping container freight and 12 percent of global trade by volume. 

Since the container got stuck in the canal on March 23, CNBC estimated about $400 million an hour in trade was held up by the blockage, or about $5.1 billion a day, based on the approximate value of goods that are moved through the waterway linking Europe and Asia. After it was finally dislodged on Monday, the Ever Given blew the horns — but it’s still early to celebrate, experts warn.  


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"Even when the canal gets reopened, the ripple effects on global capacity and equipment are significant and the blockage has already triggered a series of further disruptions and backlogs in global shipping that could take weeks, possibly months, to unravel," said Maersk, the world's biggest shipping company in a statement on Monday.  

The company and its partners have 34 vessels at anchorage waiting, it said, out of the more than 300 cargo ships stuck at either end of the canal. The situation has underscored the precariousness of the global supply chains already crippled by the coronavirus pandemic. If the canal had been blocked for much longer, experts noted that the large amounts of fuel required to power these ships would have likely led to a rise in both shipping and oil prices, as well as significant environmental impact. 


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"These things can't be looked at discretely," Jennifer Bisceglie, an expert in global supply chain resilience and founder and CEO of Interos Inc, told NPR. "Last year, you had this big wake-up call of the concentration risks of the physical supply chain from COVID, and then you had this on top of it."  

The Ever Given is finally free and heading up to the Great Bitter Lake. Another such incident, however, will be an even more bitter pill to swallow. 


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Published on Mar 29, 2021