Impacts of Suez Canal traffic jam felt in the Lowcountry

Local News

CHARLESTON, S.C. (WCBD) – Hundreds of ships remain stuck in a traffic jam in Egypt’s Suez Canal
after a massive cargo ship, the ‘Ever Given’, became lodged in the waterway.

Connecting the Mediterranean Sea and Red Sea, about 50 ships per day carrying goods to and from all over the world travel through the canal. As of Friday, some 200 ships are lined up waiting for the congestion to clear.

This satellite image provided by The European Space Agency on Friday, March 26, 2021, shows on the left, routine maritime traffic in the Suez Canal with vessels on March 21, 2021 and on the right, maritime traffic backed up on the canal on March 25. A maritime traffic jam grew to more than 200 vessels outside the Suez Canal and others began changing course as dredgers worked frantically to free a giant container ship that has been stuck sideways in the waterway and disrupted global shipping. (ESA via AP)

The South Carolina Ports Authority said that while the impacts on the local shipping industry as a whole have not yet been major, they could be felt in the coming days.

SC Ports Authority CEO Jim Newsome said that around one-quarter of their containers transit the canal, and he anticipates the effects of the backlog to be felt here in April or May.

While the impacts to the shipping industry as a whole are not immediate, one Lowcountry native is experiencing the backup in real-time.

Joe Reynolds, a Chief Engineer for the US Merchant Marine, remains is on board the Maersk Ohio, one of the many container ships waiting to pass through the canal.

He said on a typical Suez Canal transit, it’s a roughly 15-hour trip going south, and a little less going north. Reynolds explained that it’s a little complicated, but there is a lake in the middle and they time it so the southbound traffic sits there and the northbound just keeps going. 

The typically tough but smooth passage has been a bit different this time, but Reynolds remains optimistic:

“Mentally sailors are pretty resilient, and the crew is professional. We do wish we could just keep going, though. There is a real sigh of relief for American mariners when we get to the Mediterranean side of the canal and we know, for sure, that we are headed in the right direction. So, we are waiting on that.”

Reynolds says that there are worse places to be stranded; his vessel is well-equipped with fuel, food, and water. According to Reynolds, the ship could basically wait out a zombie apocalypse if necessary.

But the hope is that the wait will end ahead of an apocalypse.

Newsome said that from what he’s read, there’s a good chance an outsized tide expected Sunday or Monday will dislodge the Ever Given and float it out of the canal.

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