On March 23, an unexpected wind storm caused the Ever Given—a container ship longer than the Empire State Building—to become beached diagonally across the Suez Canal, preventing access to the maritime thoroughfare, which 12% of the world’s trade passes through each year. On March 29, nearly a week and an estimated $50 billion in lost global trade later, a fleet of tugboats managed to release the Ever Given with the help of a full moon’s “king tide.” The Ever Given was the fixture of enormous public attention for the six days it obstructed the Suez Canal. People compared its captain’s piloting to the “Tokyo Drifting” scene from the Fast and Furious franchise and laughed at the memes that rapidly circulated around the internet. And yet, while Ever Given’s debacle has been viewed mostly with a humorous lens, a stroke of luck was all that prevented it from turning into an international crisis.
The first Suez Crisis, which occurred in 1965, saw a battle over the canal—which had historically been controlled by British interests despite being on Egyptian land—take center stage in the Second Arab-Israeli War. Then, the world looked on in horror as President Nasser of Egypt nationalized the waterway, leading to Israel, the United Kingdom, and France to declare war to reclaim control of the Suez Canal. Eventually, after several thousand deaths and the deployment of more than 554,000 troops, pressure from the US, USSR, and UN forced the colonial powers to retreat and left them humiliated.
While the magnitude of this most recent incident never approached the all-out fighting in 1957, experts predicted that Ever Given could have a disastrous impact on the global economy. With the Suez Canal impassable, ships were forced to stall in place or risk-taking an alternative route ten days longer and filled with maritime pirates. Initially, some estimated that the ship would be grounded for months before it could be removed; had it not been for an extraordinarily high tide, lengthier routes would have further deterred international trade. This is all for the same reason that the first Suez Crisis happened: the Suez Canal is one of the single most important stretches of land in the entire world because it enables ships to cut off thousands of miles from their journeys and connect geographically distant but economically close countries.
Fortunately, the crisis has abated, although getting to the bottom of the situation’s culpability will likely take much longer. For now, Ever Given is awaiting inspection before continuing its journey to the Netherlands while politicians around the world continue to seek accountability. As of April 1, the ship owners filed a lawsuit in London’s High Court against its operators, Evergreen Marine Corporation. After incurring almost $1 billion in lost revenue, the Egyptian government has labeled Ever Given’s captain “uncooperative” and is also considering legal action. While Google might flash emoji boats across your screen whenever you enter the query “ever given,” the scale and spectacular ramifications of this accident brought the world to the brink of yet another supply chain crisis.