Since it opened in 1869, Egypt’s Suez Canal has been a source of national pride and a focus of international conflict. It is one of the world’s great maritime shortcuts, connecting the Red and Mediterranean Seas through a narrow passage that chops thousands of miles off most east-west shipping voyages.
Now, a different sort of crisis has thrust the Suez Canal into the global spotlight. A skyscraper-sized container ship called the Ever Given got stuck sideways across the waterway last week. The obstruction has halted canal traffic — valued at over $9 billion a day — disrupting a global shipping network already burdened by the coronavirus pandemic. Hundreds of ships waiting to cross the canal have piled up in a colossal traffic jam. With the vessel’s bow still firmly lodged in the eastern bank, other shippers are opting to take the long route around the Cape of Good Hope.
Nearly 19,000 vessels passed through the Suez Canal last year, carrying over 10% of global trade, including 7% of the world’s oil. While its shutdown this week is historic, the canal is no stranger to disruption. Here’s a look at some major incidents that have closed or threatened the bottleneck in the past.
THE “SUEZ CRISIS”
In 1956, Egypt’s then-President Gamal Abdel Nasser nationalized the canal. The seizure, celebrated by Egyptians as a defiant break from European imperialism, prompted Britain, France and Israel to intervene militarily and occupy the canal zone.