The weeklong blockage of the Suez Canal — coming as it does on top of a year of escalating ocean freight rates for the Asia-European trade, port congestion in both regions and shipping delays — has inevitably prompted debate about alternatives.
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Suez Canal, then and now
Not that you would imagine there were many other options. The Suez Canal was first dug in the late 1860s. The canal officially opened Nov. 17, 1869, at huge expense and effort. Because the alternative route around the Horn of Africa took so much longer, the canal was, in today’s parlance, a no-brainer.
Nevertheless, some vessels — those approaching the back of a very long queue in the Indian Ocean at the weekend — did set off south around Africa. However, they will probably add some two weeks to their voyage in the process. That means emissions of thousands of tons of CO2 and the cost of thousands of tons of bunker fuel.
But, like taking a detour to avoid a traffic jam, you at least feel like you are moving, even if you have to detour five times the distance.
The alternatives, though, sound at first sight even more outlandish.