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The Suez Canal standstill

Posted February. 21, 2024 07:39,   

Updated February. 21, 2024 07:39


The Suez Canal, the world’s largest canal connecting the Mediterranean Sea and the Red Sea and serving as a vital artery for global sea trade, facilitating the passage of 12% of the world’s cargo and freight, currently finds itself in a state of “open without business.” Since Iranian-backed Houthi rebels initiated an attack on a military ship and private commercial vessels on November 19, 2023, demanding Israel’s withdrawal from Gaza, the Suez Canal has practically ceased to fulfill its role. With barely one large vessel passing through per hour, the canal is experiencing a significant blockage.

The disruption in the Suez Canal has led to a global freight crisis originating from the Red Sea. South Korea’s Busan, for example, witnessed its trade balance turning red in January in three months due to the blockage of its sea route for automobile exports to Europe. The situation shows no signs of improvement, as evidenced by the recent attack on a British cargo ship, which was submerged on Monday.

Typically, vessels traveling from the Red Sea to the Mediterranean navigate through the canal in the morning, while those going in the opposite direction pass through in the afternoon. Ships entering the Red Sea pass near the Gulf of Aden, where Houthi rebel attacks are most intense, and head toward Asia.

Observations from 1 p.m. to 4 p.m. on Sunday revealed only two large vessels with freight cargo passing through. According to Vessel Finder, a global ship tracking website, these vessels either headed toward Jeddah in Saudi Arabia, eliminating the need to pass through the Gulf of Aden, or were bound for Iran and were not attacked by Iranian-backed Houthi rebels.

수에즈=김기윤특파원 pep@donga.com