- The Suez Canal was finally cleared Monday morning, nearly a week after a stuck ship forced it to shut down.
- The Japanese-owned ship, one of the largest in the world, was on its way to Felixstowe, U.K., when it hit the right bank of the canal and completely blocked it.
- Initial estimates indicated that it could take weeks to free the vessel, but a large team of ground crews and tugboats managed to complete the task sooner and pushed it into the middle of the canal facing the correct direction.
- According to data from Lloyd’s List, the canal’s closing has held up $9.6 billion worth of goods every day and forced some companies to reroute their ships around the southern tip of Africa, adding 3,500 miles and 12 days to their journey.
End of an Era
Internet users must bid farewell to their Suez Canal memes now that Egyptian crews have managed to free the massive vessel that has blocked one of the most important shipping passages in the world for about a week.
Crews successfully freed the Japanese-owned ship, named Ever Given, from the Suez Canal Monday morning. The Ever Given can accommodate 20,000 metal shipping containers and found itself perpendicular to the waterway after it hit the right bank of the Suez Canal on Tuesday.
Over the last week, estimates for how long it would take to dislodge the Ever Given varied wildly. The Suez Canal Authority initially thought the ship could be released in a matter of days, but later changed that estimate to weeks. That changed again after a team of tugboats and ground crews managed to move the Ever Given slightly and throughout Sunday night and by Monday morning they managed to push the ship into the middle of the channel.
The economic impact from the Ever Given is hard to understate. According to data from Lloyd’s List, a prominent shipping journal, roughly $9.6 billion worth of goods has been held up by the blockage each day. Satellite data shows that at least 150 ships are waiting on both sides of the canal, as well as the Great Bitter Lake in the middle of it, to get past the Ever Given. Some of those ships contain livestock, which has raised fears over their well-being during the delay, while others contain perishable goods.
Since it was unclear how long it would take the Ever Given to get unstuck, many companies rerouted their ships around the Cape of Good Hope. That route hasn’t been widely used by international shipping to go between Europe and Asia since the Suez Canal was built in the 1800’s.
Safety concerns have been posed for those ships because the alternate route forces ships to sail down the coast of Somalia and the Horn of Africa, which is a hotbed for piracy. Beyond that region being particularly dangerous, West African waters are also now considered among the most dangerous for shipping.
Additionally, it adds about 3,500 miles, 12 days to journeys between Europe and Asian ports, and hundreds of thousands in fuel costs.
Problems Likely to Continue
Unblocking the canal was only the first headache to tackle because all those ships waiting to pass through the canal still need to do so and such a traffic jam is expected to take days or weeks. These ships would normally arrive a handful-at-a-time to their ports, especially those going to Europe. Now, they are likely to arrive all at the same time, leading to further delays waiting for anchorage and a place to unload their cargo.
The Ever Given and the company that owns it may suffer some embarrassment from the situation, which has received more attention than normal for such a shipping disaster.
In the end, Egypt will probably have to answer the most questions.
The country paid $8 billion to widen the canal in 2015 in response to ships getting bigger and bigger. Those renovations only applied to certain sections of the canal and didn’t include the region where the Ever Given became stuck. That has prompted criticism from some shipping companies which argue that the canal needs to be widened across its entirety to prevent disasters like this. At the same time, there are concerns over the size of mega-container ships and the possible impacts they can have if they become involved in similar accidents.
See What Others Are Saying: (NBC News) (New York Times) (Wall Street Journal)
South Korean President Makes BTS Official Presidential Envoys
The position is largely ceremonial but will be used by the government to help give a friendly and popular face to national and international initiatives spearheaded by Seoul.
The K-pop band BTS will be adding to its list of global impacts this year after South Korean President Moon Jae-in appointed its members as Presidential Envoys on Wednesday.
The role will include attending international conferences such as the United Nations General Assembly in September.
At these events, BTS will perform “various activities to promote international cooperation in solving global challenges, such as improving the environment, eliminating poverty and inequality, and respecting diversity,” according to Park Kyung-mee, a Blue House spokesperson.
The band has already appeared at U.N. conferences multiple times over the last few years.
Just last year, the group gave a message of hope and reassurance through the U.N. during the COVID-19 pandemic. Prior appearances at the U.N. have been either as part of U.N. organizations or as private citizens.
Wednesday’s appointment will make them official representatives of South Korea, although they won’t actually engage in any direct diplomacy and instead will be used to promote the country’s ongoing efforts in youth-related projects.
BTS’ success, alongside prior and current K-pop groups, has remained a masterclass of soft diplomacy by the Korean government. For decades, the Korean government has cultivated promoting cultural aspects abroad in the hopes of generating more interest in the country. There are hopes that such efforts will encourage more tourism as well as an elevated image when consumers consider Korean-made products.
Such efforts, beyond cultivating K-pop and raising its stars as semi-official government symbols, also include helping fund Korean restaurants abroad as well as free Korean-language classes taught by Professors of some of Korea’s most prestigious schools.
The news comes as BTS’ newest single, “Permission to Dance,” quickly took the #1 spot on the Billboard top 100. BTS is also partnering with YouTube to promote a Permission to Dance challenge on YouTube Shorts that will begin tomorrow and end on August 4.
Fans will be encouraged to replicate dance moves from the music video, and the group’s favorite clips will be put into a compilation made by them.
See what others are saying: (Yonhap News) (The Korea Times) (All Kpop)
Over 1 Million Chinese Displaced After Record Rainfall
The rain has created waist-high waters throughout the capital of China’s Henan province, drastically affecting the lives of its over 10 million inhabitants.
Trapped in a Flood
The Henan province of central China experienced severe rainfall over the last week that has left at least 25 dead and displaced more than 1.2 million people due to severe flooding, according to figures released by Chinese authorities Wednesday.
Meteorologists claim that the sudden, severe rainfall is caused by Typhoon In-Fa colliding with a high-pressure system over Henan province.
The floods have forced people to wade through waist-high water throughout Zhengzhou, the region’s capital. In one tragic incident Monday, 12 people died after they were trapped in the subway amid rising waters. A similar situation occurred Tuesday, causing multiple lines to be trapped in chest-high water for up to three hours before rescue workers managed to save them. Since then, metro authorities have shut down many of Zhengzhou’s rail lines.
Between Monday and Tuesday alone, Zhengzhou was hit with an estimated 25 inches of rain, equating to about 87% of its average annual rainfall. At one point, seven inches of rain occurred in less than an hour.
In an effort to alleviate rising waters, authorities breached a nearby dam to release floodwaters on Tuesday, although it’s unclear how much that helped as many dams and rivers in the region have overflowed for days.
Elsewhere in Henan, villages have been cut off by landslides and flooding, killing at least four others and leaving some areas without power for more than 24 hours.
Long Recovery Ahead
The region was finally able to begin recovery efforts Wednesday as conditions have begun to die down.
Despite reduced rainfall, the situation has still proven to be dire, leading President Xi Jinping to issue a statement through state media ordering authorities to give top priority to people’s safety and property.
In total, more than 17,000 firefighters have been mobilized for rescue efforts, as well as local volunteers and other rescue crews from other provinces.
Chinese companies have rushed to donate money to help the affected communities, and so far over $300 million has been donated.
It’s likely that for some time, hundreds of thousands in the region will be left without homes as authorities begin the work of ensuring that buildings are safe to return to.
See what others are saying: (South China Morning Post) (BBC) (The New York Times)
Toyota Largely Pulls Olympic Sponsorship Ads Amid Calls for Games To Be Canceled
Locals in Japan are particularly worried about the spread of COVID-19 among athletes at the densely packed Olympic village, something that has already happened despite assurances that it wouldn’t.
Tainted View on Olympics
The Olympic Games continued to face controversy Monday after Toyota, one of the event’s largest sponsors, announced that it would not air any commercials featuring the Olympics in Japan.
The news may come as a surprise since companies often view their ties to one of the world’s largest sporting events as a major selling point and public relations win. However, Toyota’s decision to distance itself instead highlights a growing trend among brands and locals who view the Games as a semi-toxic subject, especially in Japan where most of the population would like the Games canceled or postponed.
The controversy around the Olympic Games largely revolves around the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic and the decision to host the Games despite rising cases in Japan, concerns about new variants of the virus, and low vaccination rates due to a slow rollout.
Despite Toyota’s recent decision, the company has provided invaluable support to organizers of the Games, including over 3,000 vehicles to transport athletes, crews, and staff. Additionally, the company continues to showcase individual Olympic athletes that it directly sponsors in competitions on its website.
Cardboard “Anti-Sex” Beds
Growing COVID concerns have many on edge, often causing jokes to be taken seriously and spread as misinformation. One such case involved the decision by organizers to use cardboard beds for athletes. Paul Chelimo, from the United States’ track and field team, joked on Twitter, “Beds to be installed in Tokyo Olympic Village will be made of cardboard, this is aimed at avoiding intimacy among athletes.”
“Beds will be able to withstand the weight of a single person to avoid situations beyond sports. I see no problem for distance runners, even 4 of us can do.”
While many understood the statement to be a joke, outlets quickly ran with the sentiment that the beds were actually designed to prevent sex between athletes. Headlines from publications like the New York Post, for instance, read, “Athletes to sleep on ‘anti-sex’ cardboard beds at Olympic Games amid COVID.”
The situation was largely put to rest after Irish gymnast Rhys McClenaghan posted a video jumping on the beds to prove they were perfectly suited for any activity. Officials at the Games went on to clarify that the decision to use cardboard was because it was a cheap, sustainable option that was easy to dispose of after the games without creating much waste.
The fact that the cardboard beds might prove awkward for athletes to use for sex could be a happy accident for the Olympic organizers, as they’ve made it clear that they don’t want attendees having sex to help prevent the spread of COVID-19. They’ve even gone so far as to threaten athletes who have sex during the games with penalties.
In an effort to further dissuade athletes from hanging outside of their dorms or with others, the use of alcohol has largely been banned. Athletes are allowed to have it in their rooms but are supposed to enjoy it while alone.
For many, proof that the Games can’t be protected against COVID-19 has already presented itself, despite assurances from organizers like IOC president Thomas Bach — who said there was “Zero” risk of transmission between athletes and Japanese staff. At least 61 people at the Olympic village have reported contracting COVID since arriving, including at least one U.S. athlete and Japanese workers at the village.
Non-political Games Rocked by Political Tit-for-Tats
The Games have also been rocked with other problems, especially involving Japan and its neighbors.
Korea was forced to take down flags that it had hung from its Olympic Village dorms that read “I still have the support of 50 million Korean people.” The phrase was borrowed from Korean Admiral Yi Sun-Shin, who said, “I still have 12 battleships left,” prior to a lopsided 16th-century naval victory against Japan in the Imjin War.” The phrasing drew outrage from right-wing Japanese groups who asked the International Olympic Committee to have Korea remove the quasi-political statement.
Korea agreed, but only if Japan agreed to use the Rising Sun flag, a standard used by Imperial-era Japan and the Japanese Navy. It’s also one that is often viewed by many East Asians as a symbol as controversial as the Nazi flag is for Westerners.