An air of sarcasm characterizes many reports on the Ever Given, the 400m-long ship that blocked the Suez Canal for six days last month. But the incident was a reminder of how vulnerable the busiest maritime trading routes are at their choke-points, and of how this vulnerability might manifest in the future. The world’s few maritime choke-points are under increasing pressure. This is true of not only the Suez Canal but also the adjacent Bab al-Mandeb Strait – on whose shores Djibouti hosts a sizeable foreign military presence – as well as the Strait of Malacca, the Panama Canal, and the Strait of Hormuz.
The Ever Given incident demonstrated how a blocked choke-point affects a wider network. In this case, it caused tangible economic damage to businesses across the world that are tied together through global supply chains. It is nothing new that choke-points are vulnerable and that keeping them open is essential for global trade. The right of passage through the Suez Canal for all kinds of ships (including military vessels) from any nation is guaranteed under the 1888 Constantinople Convention, which prohibits blockades on the waterway. However, in recent times, rising political tensions around the world have posed serious challenges to such agreements and a rules-based order more broadly.