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Asia Minute: Backup at the Suez Canal Affecting Asia

Suez Canal Authority via AP
This photo released by the Suez Canal Authority on Friday, March 26, 2021, shows the Ever Given, a Panama-flagged cargo ship, after it become wedged across the Suez Canal and blocking traffic in the vital waterway.

The Suez Canal remains closed Friday—as crews work to free a huge container ship that got stuck in a sandstorm. While the incident has sent ripples of concern around the world, it has particular impact for some in the Asia Pacific.

If you’re shipping Robusta coffee from Indonesia to Western Europe—you are stuck—along with a growing number of ships waiting to get through the Suez Canal.

On Tuesday, a massive container ship ran aground into one side of the canal during a sandstorm—and it’s not clear how long it will stay there.

The ship, the “Ever Given,” is as long as a skyscraper is tall—more than the length of four football fields.

It’s also an international corporate combination: a Panama-flagged ship owned by a Japanese company, crewed by Indian nationals, and operated by the Taiwan-based Evergreen Group.

The uncertainty of when it will clear the canal is hitting shippers, insurers, and companies dependent on supply chains whose components move through the canal—the shortest shipping route between Europe and Asia.

The Suez Canal Authority says more than 51 ships move through the canal on an average day.

Bloomberg reports that by Thursday, nearly 250 ships were waiting in line.

The impacts spill over to regional waterways in Asia—which handle smaller volumes of trade but are linked to broader shipping routes.

Singapore’s Transport Minister compared the situation to a big tree falling across a main highway—with every connecting road affected—in this case, maritime shipping routes such as the Strait of Malacca in Southeast Asia.

Bill Dorman has been the news director at Hawaiʻi Public Radio since 2011.
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