On this day one year ago, a giant vessel approached the Suez Canal in windswept conditions, sand whipping up across the banks of the 193 km strip of water connecting Asia with Europe. The infamous Ever Given would end up aground, straddling the waterway and for the ensuing six days shipping was thrust into the mainstream limelight like never before, providing countless memes and hours of dissection on rolling news channels.
More than 350 ships backed up in a queue behind the Ever Given, and some vessels even took an unusual detour, down around the Cape of Good Hope.
The legal tussle that would ensue once the ship had been freed would run into the hundreds of millions of dollars and the accident would force the Suez Canal Authority to kick off a widening project for the southern portion of the canal.
“Never in the field of global shipping has one ship ever given so much entertainment and laughs. The grounding of the ultra-large container ship made a splash in global news and drew an equally big response online as people rushed to their meme-making apps and cracked open a smile,” wrote Steven Jones from the Propeller Club Liverpool one week on from the grounding last year.
Looking at its significance to global supply chains one year on, Alex Hersham, CEO of digital freight forwarder Zencargo, commented: “Whilst this memeable six-day event led to immediate delays, with ships queuing for miles to get into ports and re-routing to deliver goods, the long-term damage to international supply chains from this and following events became apparent in the coming months.”
Hersham also said the grounding showed once and for all that global news is supply chain news and visa versa.
“This has always been the case, but for many, it took the striking images of the queuing boats at Suez to fully comprehend just how sensitive we are to disruption,” Hersham said.
Shipping has had to contend with many other supply chain blockages in the intervening months – not least Covid outbreaks in China and record-breaking queues outside American ports and latterly the fallout from the Russian invasion of Ukraine.
“There are many lessons to learn from all this. Businesses need to be versatile when it comes to their supply chains and procurement. Modern technology makes agility possible and simple, and companies can now for the first time ever, oversee their entire logistical operations from a desk in London, Hong Kong, or New York. When a seismic event like this blockage, or a Covid-related port closure or natural disaster, happens, businesses that have visibility across their supply chain can adapt fastest and use data to find alternate solutions and prosper,” commented Jack Macfarlane, CEO of AI-based procurement platform DeepStream.
In an act of nautical coincidence, another ship operated by Evergreen, the unfortunately named Ever Forward, finds itself the centre of attention to rolling news channels off the east coast of the US as a salvage operation gets underway to dislodge the ship which grounded off Chesapeake Bay 10 days ago.