A container ship that was hit by strong wind and ran aground in Suez Canal, Egypt. Picture: SUEZ CANAL AUTHORITY/HANDOUT VIA REUTERS
A container ship that was hit by strong wind and ran aground in Suez Canal, Egypt. Picture: SUEZ CANAL AUTHORITY/HANDOUT VIA REUTERS

If you’ve been doing a trial run in your doomsday bunker for the past week, you might have missed the viral story about how one of the biggest ships in the world, the container-carrying Ever Given, is blocking the Suez Canal. It’s been almost a week since the behemoth plunged into the sandbank on the side of the waterway but finally, this morning, reports are coming through that the ship has been partially refloated and has moved out of its wedged position.

That the 193km Suez Canal is able to function at full throttle is fairly critical. This Egyptian engineering marvel joins the Mediterranean to the Red Sea, which makes it the most important sea route between Asia and Europe. As Bloomberg points out, no less than 12% of global trade passes through that canal annually.

The result now is that much-needed products can’t get to their destinations — so much so, in fact, that Europe and the UK are in a low-level panic about toilet paper and coffee running out.

Already, because of the week of nonmovement, Syria is having to ration fuel. In a CNN article, Syria’s ministry of petroleum & mineral resources said the blockage of the Suez Canal had “hindered the oil supplies to Syria and delayed arrival of a tanker carrying oil and oil derivations to Syria”.

If you drill down to the details, it gets even ghastlier.

For example, Bloomberg writes that “about 200,000 animals could be stranded in the ships held up at the canal, according to an estimate from advocacy group Animals International”. The number of vessels waiting in the area to pass through once the Ever Green moves is ticking up (it’s about 350 at this point, news reports say). And some shipping companies have rerouted their craft the long way around — via the tip of Africa.  [A side note: is it just me who thinks the media referring to rerouting around the “Cape of Good of Hope” sounds like we’re living in the 1600s and some enterprising young seafarer has just “discovered” us? Why not try calling it “bottom of Africa”, chaps?]

Whatever name you give it, you might think that a bump in traffic down our way would be a good thing for SA.

Apparently it isn’t. As Nick Wilson reports in Business Times, Mike Walwyn, a director of the SA Association of Freight Forwarders and chair of the Cape Town Port Liaison Forum, is worried that “SA’s ports are not in good shape” and not equipped to handle extra traffic that could potentially come their way through smaller ships needing to dock. 

Already, there’s a seven-day berthing delay at Cape Town harbour. For more terrible shipping news of our own, read the full story.

The bright side 

While the Suez snafu is every supply chain manager’s nightmare, it has spawned some fantastic articles.

For example, The Wall Street Journal writes about why hundreds of containers have plunged off container ships into the sea in recent months. And there’s also CNN’s take on what it’s like to be at the helm of a supersized ship.

Thanks to the round-the-clock news coverage, I’ve become a guru of maritime-related mysteries and global logistics trends. And if the 560 comments on just one of The New York Times’ many articles on the ship are an indication, the world has gained a bevy of dredging experts and master skippers in the past week too.

That said, what this catastrophe has really shown us is that we’re all dying for a laugh. The Ever Given has dished those in spades. WhatsApp and social media are clogged up with memes and jokes on the topic.

While they get the mega ship on its way, start your week with the funnier side of the story here and here — and be reminded that silly pictures about a boat that doesn’t rock, roll, list or move even a single inch beat having to read about Ace Magashule or that virus once again.

* Buitendach is contributing editor at the FM

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