The forecast for Tuesday, March 23, showed wind gusts of more than 40 miles per hour and sand storms sweeping through northern Egypt. Indeed, such weather is common in the Sinai desert at this time of year. The Suez Canal—one of the most critical, yet precarious waterways on the planet—remained open. Ships were starting to form the daily convoy as the gusts picked up. One of the world’s biggest container vessels, the Ever Given, joined it. The decision would reverberate globally within hours.
By 7:40 a.m. local time, the megaship—loaded with containers that would stretch more than 120 kilometers (75 miles) end to end and carrying everything from frozen fish to furniture—was stuck. Its grounding would not only lay bare the intricacies of navigating a man-made trench of water in a vessel the size of the Eiffel Tower, but also the fragility of a global network of markets and economies that takes for granted the flow of goods through it.
Based on tracking data and dozens of interviews with people in the industry, what’s known is that the Ever Given started heading through the 300 meter-wide canal while at least one other ship decided to hold off due to the high winds. The Ever Given also didn’t employ tug boats, according to two people with knowledge of the situation, while the two slightly smaller container ships immediately ahead did.
“You’re in for some white-knuckle rides,” said Andrew Kinsey, a former captain who has navigated a 300-meter cargo ship through the Suez and is now a senior marine risk consultant at Allianz Global Corporate & Specialty. “It’s such a small canal, the winds are very rough and you have a really small margin for error and big consequences if errors happen.”