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World - Insatiable Ocean Carriers Set the Table for the Suez Canal Ship Debacle (with ASPN Podcast)

A lot of ink has been spilled to explain exactly what happened in the Suez Canal, where a massive container ship got wedged across the narrow channel, idling ships or forcing lengthy detours around South Africa’s Cape of Good Hope.

Early speculation on social media laid blame on the captain and crew, mechanical failures, or mysterious forces of nature. Was it the fault of a drunken navigator, as was claimed in the 1989 grounding of the Exxon Valdez, which spilled oil across Prince William Sound? Was there a failure of the steering gear that controls the ship’s rudder, or a did a loss of propulsion make it impossible to control the steel behemoth?

High winds were present on the day the bulbous bow of the Ever Given, bound for Rotterdam, made landfall just a few miles into the canal. Was the crew, as one Financial Times article suggested, perhaps overcorrecting for this crosswind while a hydrological phenomenon called the “bank effect” built up water pressure on one side of the vessel, shoving it sideways without warning?

Accident investigators will access the vessel’s voyage data recorder, listen to audio recordings of every command, and consider every choice made by the officers and crew. They will undoubtedly write a report that will disappoint conspiracy theorists and allay the fears of ocean carriers and beneficial cargo owners (BCO’s), or the entities that own the cargo inside the container.

Their final report will make for interesting reading, partially for what it will say and largely for what it will not. It’s unlikely to lay any blame on the material factors in a changing global container shipping industry that set the table for this public spectacle.


While modern shipping containers come in a variety of standardized sizes and types, the standard unit of measurement of the capacity of a container ship is the twenty-foot equivalent unit (TEU) which is 20 feet long, eight feet wide, and eight feet six inches tall.

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Listen more: Zachary Karabell on the History and Lasting Legacy of the Suez Canal on the American Shoreline Podcast.

On this episode, Peter Ravella and Tyler Buckingham are joined by Zachary Karabell, author, columnist (NYT, WSJ, WaPo, Politico, Wired), and grand thinker to talk about the Suez Canal, the Ever Given crash, and what it means, if anything, for international trade and our future. Karabell wrote Parting the Desert: The Creation of the Suez Canal and is a recognized expert on history, economics, and international trade. His latest book, Inside Money: Brown Brothers Harriman and the American Way of Power, comes out in May.  A great conversation with one of the leading thinkers around today.

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