The Suez Canal is blocked. This is how ships avoid it and how much cargo flows through it.

Evergreen’s Ever Given container ship blocks the Suez Canal.
Evergreen’s Ever Given container ship blocks the Suez Canal.
Image: Planet
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Low visibility and 40-knot winds during a sandstorm grounded a container ship on the Suez Canal on Tuesday—completely blocking the important shipping lane. The Ever Given, a container ship owned by Evergreen, is 400 meters long and 59 meters wide and may take at least two days to set free with multiple tug boats.

The longer it takes to free the Ever Given, the greater delays and disruption it may cause to the global shipping system.

A blocked Suez impedes a shortcut for global shipping

The Suez Canal is one of the world’s most important waterways. It is vital to global trade. About 12% of the world’s trade volume passes through it. It provides a route from the Middle East, Asia, and east Africa to the Mediterranean, Europe, and North America (and vice versa) that is significantly shorter than traveling around the southern tip of Africa.

According to the Suez Canal Authority, around 19,000 ships with a net tonnage of 1.17 billion tons passed through the canal during 2020.

The Suez Canal has been blocked before

This isn’t the first time the canal has been blocked. Following military and political conflict in the region, Egypt blocked the canal to shipping for six months beginning in 1956 and from 1967 to 1975—the latter closure trapped 14 ships and their crews for eight years.