Supplies to Asia may be disrupted due to ship blocking Suez Canal, says Singapore transport minister

A handout picture released by the Suez Canal Authority March 24, 2021 shows a part of the Taiwan-owned MV Ever Given (Evergreen) lodged sideways and impeding all traffic across the waterway of Egypt’s Suez Canal. — Suez Canal handout pic via AFP
A handout picture released by the Suez Canal Authority March 24, 2021 shows a part of the Taiwan-owned MV Ever Given (Evergreen) lodged sideways and impeding all traffic across the waterway of Egypt’s Suez Canal. — Suez Canal handout pic via AFP

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SINGAPORE, March 26 — With traffic along the Suez Canal suspended due to a 400m-long container ship blocking the waterway, Asia may have to brace for a possible disruption to supplies in the coming weeks, said Transport Minister Ong Ye Kung yesterday.

The Taiwan-owned MV Ever Given vessel ran aground in the widely-used waterway after a gust of wind blew it off course. The man-made Suez Canal in Egypt effectively provides a short-cut between Europe and the Middle East and Asia.

For three days, the Ever Given has been stuck diagonally across the single-lane southern stretch of the canal amid high winds and a dust storm.

Around 30 per cent of the world’s shipping container volume, with about 12 per cent of total global trade of all goods, transits through the 193km Suez Canal daily. 

Commenting on the issue, Ong wrote on Facebook: “To have the Suez blocked is akin to a big tree falling across the Central Expressway (CTE). Every other expressway linked to the CTE will be affected.

“It can mean supplies to the region may be temporarily disrupted.”

Should this happen, he said some draw down on inventories will become necessary here.

This is because the alternative route for ships to sail around the Cape of Good Hope in South Africa to get to Asia will take around one to two weeks longer, said Ong.

Pointing out that the Straits of Malacca and Singapore provide passage for a third of global seaborne trade, Ong said the Suez Canal and the straits are “closely connected in linking up Europe, Middle East and Asia”.

“If the disruption is prolonged, PSA may see schedule disruptions when shipping lines reroute their journeys. It will have to plan ahead and ensure that operations remain smooth,” said Ong.

“This is another unfortunate incident that illustrates how the world is now so closely interwoven together.”

Efforts are currently underway to dislodge the giant container ship which is almost as long as the Empire State Building in New York City.

The Suez Canal Authority said in a statement that eight tug boats have been trying to push and pull the Ever Given vessel free of the canal’s banks.

But Peter Berdowski, chief executive officer of Dutch construction company Boskalis, which is trying to free the ship, said it was too early to say how long the job might take.

“We can’t exclude it might take weeks, depending on the situation,” Berdowski told the Dutch television programme Nieuwsuur. — TODAY

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