Livestock and lumber. Oil and automobiles. Exercise equipment and instant coffee.
Those were just some of the products that were blocked by the ship just dislodged from the Suez Canal, in a bizarre maritime drama that captivated people around the world and illustrated just how fragile global supply chains can be.
After nearly a week blockading more than 10% of global shipping traffic, the Ever Given has finally been freed. But the consequences could linger for weeks: Hundreds of ships have been stuck on either side of the Suez Canal, and it will take some time to clear the backlog.
The array of goods affected is mind-boggling. There were oil tankers, of course, and ships carrying liquified natural gas and biodiesel. There were ships carrying live animals, ships carrying crops and cement, and ships carrying U.K.-bound automobiles.
A spokesperson for Hapag-Lloyd told The Washington Post that treadmills and home improvement supplies bound for Europe and the U.S. were caught up in the jam.
French oak returning from being processed in China, 80 containers of tea, 110 containers of Ikea furniture: All of that was also caught up in the standstill, Agence France-Presse reports.
One British company told the BBC that they were waiting on “all sorts” of goods, from coconut milk to car parts.
Robusta coffee beans, the kind used for instant coffee, also travel the Suez from Vietnam to Europe, and prices spiked during the canal’s down time.
For some companies, these delays could cost substantial amounts of money. For instance, European manufacturers who were waiting for parts from Asia may need to pause production completely while waiting on a single part to arrive. Such disruptions can have ripple effects through the world economy.
But it’s not just about the (many, many) goods inside those containers.
Containers themselves — the giant metal boxes that carry the goods on board ships, trains and tractor-trailers — are a scarce commodity these days, and a traffic jam on either side of the Suez only made the shortage worse.
To be clear, this is far from the worst-case scenario. Some observers had been bracing for the blockade to last much longer than this. A weeklong disruption, even if it has repercussions for months, won’t derail the global economic recovery.
But the unusual episode is drawing attention to the fragility of global supply chains — already fraying under the pressure of the pandemic’s economic crash, and the faster-than-anticipated recovery of consumer demand.
Some observers have already been wondering if we’ll see a return to shorter, more localized supply chains, or see a rise in stockpiled parts and essential goods, in part to reduce the risks of snarls like this.
The Ever Given was an object of fascination in part because it was such an obvious metaphor; as the pandemic stretches into its second year, more than a few people have been feeling frustrated and stuck.
Now that the ship is free, the metaphor continues. The effects of this strange disaster will take time to unravel and raises the possibility that the “normal” we return to may never be quite the same as before.