QUICK READ: When the Suez Canal was blocked for 8 years
The Suez Canal has been plastered all over social media and news channels lately. One of the vital passageways for the world’s international trade has been rendered impassable by the ship Ever Given, which has been wedged sideways in the canal, blocking the trade route.
While this blockage has led to chaos and cost billions in supply chain delays at a time when many companies are operating on slims margins due to the pandemic, the blockage is not unprecedented. In fact, the current delays pale in comparison to the 5th June, 1967, when the vital shipping lane was closed for eight years.
The Suez Canal is a narrow channel of water that connects the Mediterranean Sea to the Indian Ocean. Before its opening in 1896, ships would have to navigate the coast of Africa and around the Cape of Good Hope, adding 6,000 km to the journey. Suez provided the world with its greatest and most important shortcut, but also heightened the risk of a disastrous traffic jam.
Egypt, the country where the channel resides, has not got the greatest of relationships with one of its neighbours, Israel, to say the least. On June , 1967, unbeknownst to those using the canal, war was to be declared between the two. 15 ships entered Suez on what was to be expected a 12-hour journey. The canal became a war zone, with debris, sunken ships and mines littering the stretch of water.
The canal was closed by order of the Egyptian government, marooning the 15 ships. When the Six-Day War ended, Israel occupied the Sinai Peninsula up to the Suez Canal itself. International trade had to bypass the disputed area, and ships began navigating the pre-1896 route around the African continent to the detriment of the global economy. The ships that had already entered the canal were stranded in No Man’s Land.
While tensions remained high around the canal, the Arab-Israeli War broke out in 1973. In 1974 the Israel Egypt Disengagement Treaty was agreed and Israeli forces pulled back from Egyptian territory.
The Suez Canal was reopened to international shipping on the 5th June 1975, which President Anwar el‐Sadat proclaimed it was “the happiest day in my life”.
The ships that had been marooned within the canal since the initial fateful journey in 1967 could finally cross to the other side, only 8 years behind schedule.