A fly…err, ship…in the ointment. Until last week, about 50 vessels, transporting approximately 10 percent of global trade, sailed through the Suez Canal every day, reported Scott Neuman and Jackie Northam of NPR.
The canal is a shortcut that makes it possible for ships to travel from Asia and the Middle East to Europe without sailing all the way around Africa’s Cape of Good Hope, a route that’s both less secure (pirates) and more expensive (time, insurance, and fuel), according to David Sheppard, Harry Dempsey, Leo Lewis, and Kana Inagaki of Financial Times.
That changed on Tuesday when one of the largest container ships in the world became wedged in the canal, blocking traffic in both directions, reported Sudarsan Raghavan and Antonia Noori Farzan of The Washington Post.
The effect on global trade, supply chains, and consumers has yet to be determined. “Like much else about the situation, it depends on how long it goes on. A weeklong delay for a few hundred ships at the Suez might have only a negligible impact for consumers, but a prolonged delay could increase the cost of shipping, complicate manufacturing, and ultimately drive up prices,” reported NPR.
Prior to the shutdown at the Suez Canal, container shipping costs were already rising. The increase was due, in part, to a shortage of shipping containers. In early February, The Economist reported, “Surging demand for goods and a shortage of empty containers at Asian ports have sent container-shipping costs rocketing…The Freightos Baltic Index, a measure of container-freight rates in 12 important maritime lanes, has increased from $2,200 to $4,000 per container…”
On Sunday, preparations were being made to unload some of the 18,000 containers the wedged ship carries to facilitate refloating, reported Yuliya Talmazan of NBC News.
Weekly Focus – Think About It
“Everything in a modern container port is enormous, overwhelming, crushing. Kendal, of course, but also the thundering trucks, the giant boxes in many colors, the massive gantry cranes that straddle the quay, reaching up ten stories and over to ships that stretch three football pitches in length. There are hardly any humans to be seen.”
--Rose George, British journalist and author
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