What we can take away from the 'Ever Given'

The saga on the Suez Canal was a unique moment in a tumultuous time

epa09106425 A container ship starts moving in the Suez Canal, in Ismalia, Egypt, 30 March 2021. The Suez Canal Authority on 29 March said that traffic is to resume after the large container ship 'Ever Given' was refloated and 43 vessels had resumed transit so far from the Great Bitter Lake, which separates two sections of the canal. The Ever Given ran aground in the Suez Canal on 23 March, causing a huge traffic backlog of ships.  EPA/Mohamed Hossam
Beta V.1.0 - Powered by automated translation

On Monday, the 200,000-ton Ever Given was finally unstuck from the banks of the Suez Canal. For the past week, the container ship had been blocking one of the world's busiest waterways, causing oil prices to rise and shipping companies around the world to frantically reassess their operations. The incident was holding up almost $10 billion in maritime trade a day. With the crisis now over, logistical workers can bid farewell to one of the strangest incidents that they have dealt with since the start of the Covid-19 pandemic.

Comically, almost as soon as news broke of the Ever Given's release, #putitback started trending on social media, showingthe 150-year-old Suez Canal to be a surprising stage for a global spectacle.

TOPSHOT - A picture released by Egypt's Suez Canal Authority on March 29, 2021, shows a tugboat pulling the Panama-flagged MV 'Ever Given' container ship after it was fully dislodged from the banks of the Suez. The ship was refloated and the Suez Canal reopened, sparking relief almost a week after the huge container ship got stuck and blocked a major artery for global trade. Salvage crews have been working around the clock ever since the accident which has been blamed on high winds and poor visibility during a sandstorm. / AFP / SUEZ CANAL AUTHORITY / - / == RESTRICTED TO EDITORIAL USE - MANDATORY CREDIT "AFP PHOTO / HO / SUEZ CANAL AUTHORITY" - NO MARKETING NO ADVERTISING CAMPAIGNS - DISTRIBUTED AS A SERVICE TO CLIENTS ==
Quote
Even as the vessel takes to open water, the story is not over

The Suez Canal is arguably the world's most important artificial waterway. It began as the ambition of a French diplomat and Egypt's ruling family in the 19th century. In the mid-20th century, the UK, France and Israel failed in an attempt to recapture it after the leader of Egypt's independence movement, Gamal Abdel Nasser, nationalised the passage. Nasser's victory made the canal a symbol of Egyptian independence, and a symbol of so many decolonisation movements to come. Now, the waterway enjoyed once again a moment as the world's most captivating story, during a year when breaking news has been mostly about illness, economic uncertainty, war and injustice. For a week, an entirely mundane piloting error – or a slightly too strong gust of wind, depending on what investigators conclude – created a measure of chaos normally reserved for more nefarious acts of geopolitics.

Delays and challenges are common in shipping. The vast majority of "crises" are the fodder of industry wonks, and a bore to everyone else. In the fog of tight timetables, international supply chains and thousands of private companies, what goes on in ports and international waters is important, but tedious.

But other crises in the shipping sector are universally distressing. The National has written, for example, about the hardship that mariners have faced during the Covid-19 pandemic, as a growing number of companies around the world are going bankrupt, which can, in extreme cases, lead to sailors being stranded at sea in legal limbo. In other cases, PPE and other medical supplies have gone undelivered, escalating international tensions and undermining the fight against the pandemic.

The plight of the Ever Given was a crisis wedged firmly in between. The public response included concern, fascination and even laughter, but the world was also reminded that the mechanics of something so important as the global economy can hinge on even the smallest details.

The beginning of this saga was unprecedented and captivating. The middle was a race against time. And the conclusion seemed definitive, after a combined effort from Egypt and international partners, as well as 15 tugboats and a lone digger. Even as the Ever Given takes to open water, however, the story is not over. There will be investigations and fierce legal battles that could drag on for months, if not years, as the shipping company and the Canal Authority wrangle to assign responsibility. The end lesson may simply be that accidents happen. But even that will teach the world something.

EDITORIAL