Today in History: Six-Day Traffic Jam on the Suez Canal
by M.C. Millman
On March 23, 2021, the mammoth Ever Given ran aground diagonally after losing the ability to steer due to high winds and a dust storm; the ship was jammed so tightly that the Suez Canal was blocked for the next six days with her bow wedged in one bank of the canal and stern nearly touching the other.
Since nearly a tenth of global trade passes through the Suez Canal, every day the canal was blocked, creating mounting concerns over supply chain issues.
And the concerns were based on legitimate fears as the last time ships got stuck in the Suez Canal, they were there for eight years. From 1967 to 1975, fourteen ships remained stranded in the Great Bitter Lake, a salt lake connected to the canal. Jammed in one place for years, the crews created their own society, complete with its own postal service and stamps. They even held a unique inter-ship version of the Olympics in 1968 to combat boredom.
As for the Ever Given, efforts by tugboats to free the jammed ship proved futile for six long days as the fifteen vessels behind the Ever Given ran aground as well, resulting in a traffic jam in both directions of over two hundred vessels.
Aided by a high spring tide and eight tugboats working in collaboration with excavators who had to remove sand from the side of the canal where the bow of the vessel was wedged, the ship was finally set free.
After the Suez Canal was checked for damage, shipping was able to resume by evening.
The tribulations of the Ever Given were not over yet. On April 13, the SCA seized the ship, demanding the owners pay $900 million in damages. An undisclosed agreement was reached, and after six weeks of repairs, the infamous ship was back in action.