|▲ A U.S. aircraft carrier passing through the Suez Canal. (Source:Pixabay)|
Recently a 400 meter long container ship called “Evergiven” was stranded in the Suez Canal, completely blocking it. Ships traveling between Europe and East Asia have been unable to pass through the canal for a week. Thus transportation between Europe and Asia also has been totally halted, causing international oil prices to soar and seriously influenced global logistics. The toll to use the Suez Canal is around 300 to 500 million won per ship, making it one of Egypt’s major sources of income. Despite the enormous toll, most ships choose to pay the toll as passing through the canal is much more efficient in terms of time and fuel consumption for ships sailing between Asia and Europe.
The necessity of the Suez Canal, which connects the Red Sea and the Mediterranean Sea, arose even before the Roman Empire. In ancient Egypt the canal was built to connect specific areas of Northern Africa and made the transportation of crops, livestock and merchandise much easier at that time. The present-day form of the Suez Canal was built in the 1800s by the Ottoman Empire. There is also a painful history of wars in the Middle East related to the Suez Canal since it plays a key role as a strategic waterway from a military and logistics perspective. Great powers such as Britain and France were also involved in the conflicts around the Suez Canal, and the ownership had been transferred several times among neighboring countries and European powers, but it is now owned and managed by Egypt.
Many oil-producing Arab countries are located near the Suez Canal. This means most of the oil from the Middle-East is transported worldwide via the Suez canal. As it is an essential route, most merchant ships are built to meet the standard of “Suez Max”, the specifications that can pass through the Suez Canal. Ships that do not meet the specifications are not able to pass through the canal, and their only route is to go around the Cape of Good Hope located in the Republic of South Africa.
Like how the Suez Canal connects Europe and Asia, The Panama Canal on the Great American continents connect the Atlantic Ocean and the Pacific Ocean. Without the Panama Canal, ships have to sail all the way around the northernmost or the southernmost points of the American continents. The Panama Canal is also famous for its marvelous elevator systems that overcome the sea level differences of both sides. Through this man-made marvel, ships can reach the other sides of the continent within a day. In contrast, without the Panama Canal, the route takes about 10 days to go around the Great American continents. For these reasons, fleets of ships in the U.S. Navy are also designed to meet the “Panamax”, which is the standard to pass through the Panama Canal, enabling rapid deployment of U.S. naval fleets around the world. That is how canals contribute to world peace.
Modern land transportation vehicles have developed a lot compared to past models, but they still cannot match trade ships in terms of transportation efficiency. Therefore, canals are expected to play an important role in global logistics, even in the future. Despite COVID-19 cutting down the volume of world trade, trade still fuels the global economy. Countries and authorities that manage canals should maintain the canals in good condition and expand canals for better traffic control to make it worth paying the expensive transportation tolls. Authorities should plan emergency ship recovery drills to stop an “Evergiven” accident from ever happening again to prevent negative repercussions on the global economy.
By Park Hyun-jong, reporter email@example.com
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