Morning Brief

The Ever Given’s Suez Odyssey Is Almost Over

The Suez Canal Authority said the boat had been successfully refloated, but unblocking the shipping backlog could take weeks.

The Ever Given, a ship that was stuck in the Suez Canal
A view of the Ever Given's stern on March 29. AFP

Here is today’s Foreign Policy brief: The Ever Given is almost free of Suez Canal jam, China and Iran sign a cooperation deal, and Myanmar endures the bloodiest day since coup. 

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Whatever Floats the Boat

The Ever Given, the super container vessel that ran aground in the Suez Canal last Tuesday was successfully refloated in the early hours of Monday morning following days of excavation attempts.

A team of high-powered tugboats appeared to have ultimately made the difference, after days of work from excavators and dredgers to free the ship after it became wedged in the Egyptian sand.

The boat is not quite in the middle of the waterway, but the Suez Canal Authority is hopeful a high tide today will allow for a final push (and tug) to bring it into position.

The boat will then head north for further inspection. Meanwhile, navigation is to resume “immediately” afterward, according to the Suez Canal Authority.

Financial fallout. While the striking images and sheer simplicity of the problem (as New York magazine’s The Cut put it: “Big Boat, Very Stuck”) has proved captivating for many, the knock-on effects of an almost weeklong blockage of a route that carries 12 percent of global trade is not yet clear.

Mohab Mamish, Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi’s advisor for the Suez Canal, said it will take roughly a week to clear the remaining ships out of the canal once the Ever Given is under way. Dealing with the backlog that has accumulated north and south of the canal will likely take more than twice as long.

Egypt’s losses. The refloating heads off more economic damage for Egypt, which was losing roughly $15 million in fees for each day the canal was not operational. Before Monday’s breakthrough, Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi had ordered the canal authorities to prepare to remove some of the 18,300 containers on board the Ever Given.

How did we get here? Writing in the Atlantic, Amanda Mull provides a concise overview of how a boat as large as the Ever Given came to be, and eventually met its destiny, making “cartoonishly noticeable some of the crucial infrastructure of global capital, which is usually invisible in most people’s daily life.”

If you find yourself with more time than usual this morning, I recommend Brendan Greeley’s excellent layperson’s explanation of the complex hydrodynamics surrounding what amounts to a “24m-deep ditch dug in the ground” over at the Financial Times Alphaville blog.


The World This Week

Monday, March 29, is the final day for workers at Amazon’s Alabama-based fulfillment center to vote on whether to form a union. Although unionized Amazon warehouses are more common in Europe, if successful, it would be the first unionized center in the United States.

On Tuesday, March 30, International Monetary Fund Managing Director Kristalina Georgieva discusses the global economic outlook ahead of the IMG/World Bank Spring meetings.

On Wednesday, March 31, U.S. Climate Envoy John Kerry and Chinese Climate Change Envoy Xie Zhenhua both appear at the IEA-COP26 Net Zero Summit.

South Africa’s Commission of Inquiry into State Capture must complete its work on this day, according to a court order.

On Thursday, April 1, OPEC+ oil ministers meet virtually to discuss oil production levels.

Thursday also marks the final day for the White House to notify the U.S. Congress of its intention to sign a U.S.-U.K. trade agreement before fast-track Trade Promotion Authority expires. The Biden administration is expected to let the deadline pass amid an aircraft subsidy dispute. 

On Sunday, April 4, Bulgaria holds parliamentary elections. Boyko Borisov’s Citizens for European Development of Bulgaria (GERB) party currently leads in polls, although it is expected to win fewer seats than it did in 2017.


What We’re Following Today

Myanmar’s bloodiest day. Myanmar’s people endured the bloodiest day since the country’s Feb. 1 military coup on Saturday, with 114 deaths reported. The overall death toll stands at 460, according to the Assistance Association for Political Prisoners.

The crackdown came as Myanmar’s military conducted airstrikes against Karen National Liberation Army positions over the weekend in apparent retaliation for an attack by the insurgent group on a government outpost. 3,000 Karen, Myanmar’s third-largest ethnic group, fled into neighboring Thailand on Sunday following the aerial attacks.

Thai Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-ocha said his government is prepared for more refugees to enter from Myanmar. “We don’t want to have an exodus into our territory, but we will observe human rights, too,” he said on Monday.

Slovakia’s prime minister to resign. Slovakian Prime Minister Igor Matovic has offered to step down from his post and swap roles with Finance Minister Eduard Heger in a bid to end a political crisis sparked by Matovic’s order of Russian-made Sputnik V coronavirus vaccines without informing his coalition partners. The plan has been welcomed by those partners, paving the way for Heger’s promotion. Slovakia has already received 200,000 Sputnik vaccine doses but has yet to use any.

Indonesia bombing. Nineteen people were injured in the Indonesian city of Makassar on Sunday following a suicide bombing outside a Catholic church. The two bombers killed in the attack are believed to be members of the Islamist group Jamaah Ansharut Daulah (JAD), according to local police. President Joko Widodo has urged calm in the wake of the bombing and said his government would ensure citizens could worship “without fear,” as Christians enter Easter week.


Keep an Eye On

China’s coal habit. China’s coal consumption rose 1.7 percent in 2020, according to a new report from Ember, an energy and climate think tank. In a further challenge to China’s plans for carbon neutrality, China’s electricity demand has grown 33 percent over the past five years, with per capita demand now higher than the United Kingdom, but still less than half of U.S. per capita demand.

China and Iran’s new deal. China and Iran signed a 25-year security and economic cooperation agreement on Saturday, in a move that could allow give Iran some breathing room amid international sanctions. The deal reportedly includes Chinese investments in Iran’s nuclear energy and oil industry as well as port and rail infrastructure in return for Iranian oil. Notably, the deal includes an agreement to set up an Iranian-Chinese bank, giving Tehran a financial foothold outside of the Western-dominated banking system.


Odds and Ends

Poland’s Interior Ministry has proposed new legislation that would provide pensions for the dogs and horses that serve in the country’s police, border and fire services—giving their new owners state payments to cover expensive medical care. When it comes to guardianship, the draft law would also give right of first refusal to animals’ handlers before putting them up for adoption. The Polish government currently employs roughly 1,200 dogs and 60 horses, with about 10 percent retiring each year. Interior Minister Mariusz Kaminski said the law is a “moral obligation” and expects to see it pass unanimously in parliament once it reconvenes.   


That’s it for today.

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Colm Quinn is the newsletter writer at Foreign Policy. Twitter: @colmfquinn

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