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Suez Canal Blockage

Suez Canal Blockage

Why in news?

  • A container ship called the ‘Ever Given’ was freed from the Suez Canal on March 29, 2021, a week after it ran aground and blocked other vessels from transiting one of the world’s most important waterways.
  • A human-made waterway, the Suez Canal is one of the world’s most heavily used shipping lanes, carrying over 12 percent of world trade by volume.

Increasing Size Of The Ships | Suez Canal Blockage

  • At 400 metres long, the Ever Given is indeed among the largest 1% of the world’s fleet.
  • Its high-profile accident will result in a new wave of precautions to make mega ships safer, but it will also prompt the shipping industry to reflect on whether such gigantic vessels actually do more harm than good.
  • One of the most significant size upgrades came when Maersk introduced its E-series in 2006, which can carry around 15,000 containers – doubling the capacity of the previous largest container ships.
  • In the 15 years since then, some 133 ships have been launched with a carrying capacity of between 18,000 and 24,000 containers.
  • These are classed as ultra large container vessels – the biggest boats in the world.
  • The Ever Given is one such vessel.

Suez Canal: Background

  • The origins of the Suez Canal go back to the ancient period and the first waterway was dug during the reign of Senusret III Pharaoh of Egypt (1874 BC).
  • Construction picked up pace around 300 years back as maritime trade between Europe and Asia became crucial for many economies.
  • Located in Egypt, the artificial sea-level waterway was built between 1859 and 1869 linking the Mediterranean Sea and the Red Sea.
  • In the mid-1800s, French diplomat and engineer Ferdinand de Lesseps convinced the Egyptian viceroy Said Pasha to support the canal’s construction.
  • In 1858, the Universal Suez Ship Canal Company was tasked to construct and operate the canal for 99 years, after which rights would be handed to the Egyptian government.
  • Despite facing multiple problems ranging from financial difficulties and attempts by the British and Turks to halt construction, the canal was opened for international navigation in 1869.
  • In 1888 the major maritime powers at the time (except Great Britain) signed the Convention of Constantinople, which declared that the canal should be open to ships of all nations in times of both peace and war.
  • The French and British held most of the shares in the canal company. The British used their position to sustain their maritime and colonial interests by maintaining a defensive force along the Suez Canal Zone as part of a 1936 treaty.
  • In 1954, facing pressure from Egyptian nationalists, the two countries signed a seven-year treaty that led to the withdrawal of British troops.
  • The Suez Canal is pivotal in connecting Europe and Asia, as it negates the need to navigate around the Cape of Good Hope in Africa and thus cutting distances by up to 7,000 km.
  • The canal continues to be the lifeline for all trade between the West and East as 10 per cent of the global trade passes through it every year.
  • The average 50 ships that pass through it daily carry about $9.5 billion worth of goods, every day.

Course of the Canal | Suez Canal Blockage

  • The canal extends 193 km between Port Said in the north and Suez in the south.
  • The canal utilizes several lakes: from north to south, Lake Manzala, Lake Timsah , and the Bitter Lakes—Great Bitter Lake  and Little Bitter Lake.

Significance of the Suez Canal

  • Facilitator for Colonisation in early times
  • The canal continues to be the lifeline for all trade between the West and East as 10% of the global trade passes through it every year.
  • Maritime transport is the cheapest means of transport, whereas more than 80 % of the world trade volume is transported via waterways (seaborne trade).
  • It is the longest canal in the world without locks.
  • The accidents are almost nil compared to other waterways.
  • Navigation goes day and night.
  • The Canal is liable to be widened and deepened when required, to cope with the development in ship sizes and tonnages.

Impact of Suez Closure | Suez Canal Blockage

  • Over 200 ships were stuck on both sides of the canal putting stress on global supply chains.
  • There has been rise in oil prices after the blockage.
  • The blockage delayed a range of parts and raw materials for European products such as cotton from India for clothes, petroleum from the Middle East for plastics, and auto parts from China.
  • India is the top importer of crude oil and products via the Suez Canal, higher than China, South Korea or Singapore.
  • The incident also raises questions about finding solutions to prevent future accidents and reducing the global dependence on this narrow waterway. Suez Canal Blockage


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