Why The Suez Canal Blockage Is a Warning Sign...

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By Megan Anderson, Legends Report Writer

The blocking of The Suez Canal by The Ever Given container ship has been a headline that the world became obsessed with. The main question: what was a boat that big doing down the Suez Canal?

The blocking of The Suez Canal by The Ever Given container ship has been a headline that the world became obsessed with. I’m no different - as a shipping assistant with a business degree, I’ve been in my element. To someone with no knowledge of the industry and its scope, it’s essentially the story of a big boat that got stuck. Many people on social media leapt on the opportunity to go viral at the expense of the accident and for a good laugh. The main question: what was a boat that big doing down the Suez Canal? When you break it down beyond some light-hearted relief from Covid-19 news, far more severe and far-reaching issues come to light.


Around 80% of the world’s trade is transported by boat (United Nations Conference On Trade And Development UNCTAD ) - a statistic shocking to the vast population who assume that most cargo is flown by plane these days. This figure includes your phone, your sofas, your bananas. The environmental impact of this is vast. The world’s rivers were not designed to carry such extreme weights; The Ever Given weighs 200,000 tonnes and was one of hundreds of vessels travelling that passage last week alone.

The ship getting stuck is a visual representation of what we already know: we’re overworking our planet. It is an unmistakable exploitation of natural resources. Every corner of the globe has been commodified, and, for better or for worse, this is at the expense of our environment. As an example, the river banks where The Ever Given lodged, have been potentially irreversibly destroyed as a direct result - something HAS to give.  


Like almost all multi-billion dollar industries, the shipping industry has huge social impacts. Whole communities along the entire Suez Canal, in this case, Egypt, were forced to deal with this error when the goods weren’t even destined for their country. Whilst thankfully The Ever Given didn’t run into any local communities or livestock, there is grave danger of this happening again. 

It’s also worth thinking about the individuals working on these ships - often unable to find work elsewhere, people resort to working in tough conditions, isolated from their loved ones and civilisation for long periods of time. How ethical is such work? When transporting goods by plane, although far more expensive, workers will only be in the air for a maximum of 24 hours. When compared to shipping, where a vessel can take an average of six weeks to reach the UK from China (this is based on my workplace), it’s staggering. That was one aspect of this story that I just could not move on from: how awful the crew must have felt. Not only had they prolonged their own time at sea, but they had impacted all those in boats around them, and the speed of world trade. That’s a pretty big responsibility to carry on your back when you’re at work. 


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The world economy is extremely reliant on shipping - it makes up 80% of the trade by volume and 70% in value. In this day and age, it's deemed acceptable to buy goods from all over the world and expect them to arrive relatively quickly. This isn’t necessarily the fault of one individual; it’s what we’ve come to expect as globalisation has prevailed. However, this can hugely impact local businesses who most likely have less of an environmental footprint than widely used online sites. It’s a system rigged against small businesses. 

In addition, both Covid-19 and Brexit have demonstrated that the UK economy (and those around the world) are not cut out for such a reliance on shipping. The major UK ports, including Felixstowe and Southampton where Brexit has created complications and social distancing must be observed, are symbolic of this. 


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What Is Our Responsibility? 

Now that the ship has been freed, and Evergreen (the company in charge of The Ever Given) has been sued for $1 billion for damages and disruption to trade by the Egyptian Canal Authority, this can be taken as a great opportunity to see the bigger picture.

It is crucial to have an awareness of how our behaviours and actions affect the planet. Each one of us has the responsibility to do what we can to consider our behaviour with what we buy, what we consume and how we live because the world is becoming more and more damaged by our need to consume. It's like a patient on life-support and the ship getting stuck in the Suez Canal is symbolic of a blocked artery. We can't leave it up to governments or politicians to fix this. It's up to each of us to "be the change we want to see in the world." This starts with the inside of own front door, being aware of what we consume, how much we consume and where it's coming from. 



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