Three Supply Chain Risk Management Lessons You Can Learn from the Suez Canal Block

The Ever Given vessel is floating, but the ship is not out of hot water. In fact, Egyptian authorities said it will remain in the Suez Canal until they are compensated by the vessel owners for the damage, labor, and disruption caused. Although the cargo on the Ever Given is still at a standstill, other ships have been able to freely move through the canal over the past few weeks.

Even still, the effects of the Suez Canal block will continue to ripple far beyond the cargo that remains stuck on the Ever Given. The influx of delayed cargo has disrupted offloading schedules at ports, delivery schedules for shipping companies, and even orders sent directly to consumers. As an industry, it’s imperative for us to learn from this and develop strategies to minimize the impact of similar blockages should they happen in the future.

Now that we can view the incident in hindsight, I wanted to share three risk management lessons you can take away from this to create a healthier supply chain.


1. The entire supply chain can be impacted by one accident

Although the Suez Canal handles only 13% of global trade, its blockage rippled through the supply chain worldwide. The BBC reported that 369 ships were stuck waiting for the Ever Given to be refloated. Not only did all those ships have significantly delayed cargo, but the disruption created a backlog of cargo that continues to be felt today at ports, warehouses, shipyards, retail locations, and ultimately, by customers.

For an example of the negative effects this sort of delay can have, let’s look at perishable deliveries. Perishables are on tight delivery schedules that ensure the product arrives at its destination fresh and ready for purchase. Adding a week to the delivery timeframe for perishables can kill the entire supply chain. Even if the goods are still delivered in acceptable condition, they will not be able to spend as much time on shelves, resulting in a massive amount of food waste and lost profit.

The Suez Canal block has also affected supply chains through the ships that were rerouted from the canal. These ships will arrive later than expected and have a higher potential for damaged cargo as they spent more time navigating through rough seas. This may delay shipments, cause inventory shortages, and create logistical difficulties at various offloading points.

We have yet to even see the full range of effects that this mishap will have on the global supply chain, but it has proven that any incident in the supply chain ripples out to points all across the globe.


2. Flexibility is key

Congestion and disruption can always get worse. Because shippers and even logistics experts can’t always predict exactly what will happen, it’s important to have a plan for every eventuality. Planning ensures that you remain flexible and meet your goals, regardless of the obstacles faced along the way.

To remain properly flexible, you need to have a broad range of options on hand. For example, at C.H. Robinson, we assist our clients through our suite of global services. We use a diverse array of services to ensure that our clients are supported, no matter the situation. For instance, when approaching ocean shipping, we leverage full container load (FCL) and consolidation less than container load (LCL) ocean services to create a diversity of options for our customers. Not only does this allow them to choose the option they desire, it also provides them with alternatives should anything unexpected occur.

Additionally, using the insights gained from logistics technology, in particular from supply chain connectivity technology, can help you see what a supply chain error or delay will affect, making it easier to get ahead of the effects before they derail your operation.

Ultimately, this is all in pursuit of resiliency. Because there are so many moving parts in the global supply chain, it’s unreasonable to expect that each part will always be in sync. An excellent logistics plan with an excellent logistics partner combine to ensure resiliency against even the most unexpected events.

3. A risk management strategy is no longer a luxury

Since the global supply chain has grown so large and so complex in the 21st century, risk management strategies have become a necessity. In most cases, customers expect that they are a given. In the case of the Suez Canal incident, none of the ships stuck behind the Ever Given ever expected that the Suez Canal would be blocked, and no one on the Ever Given expected to become lodged in one of the world’s most vital trade passages. Regardless of expectations, these accidents occurred, and everyone was scrambling to mitigate the risk.

Because no one can predict such incidents, it’s vital to have risk management strategies in place well before any issues occur. Even before the Suez Canal blockage, the importance of risk management for ocean shipping had been increasing. In February, we touched on the increase in vessel accidents over the past year. In that article, we discussed how to prepare for a vessel accident, and many of the same lessons that we imparted there apply to this situation.

Specifically, the two most important pieces of advice that carry over are purchasing maritime insurance and working with a provider with a global suite of services. We’ve already discussed the importance of working with a reputable, well-connected provider, but it bears repeating that a provider with a global suite of services can correct issues faster and more effectively than you could on your own.

Maritime insurance is something that we highly recommend purchasing whenever you engage in ocean shipping. Imagine how you might feel if you were carrying a large amount of produce that rotted while you were stuck in the Suez Canal. Even worse, imagine you were the managing company of the Ever Given, now being asked to pay up to $1 billion by the government of Egypt for the affair. If you found yourself in this situation and did not have maritime insurance, your company could quickly find itself sunk by a combination of lost revenue and damages. Even on a smaller scale, if you were shipping cargo through rough seas and a single container were lost or damaged, having insurance would save you from stressful financial headaches.


Spare yourself trouble by staying prepared

Issues like the block in the Suez Canal have a lot to teach shippers and logistics experts about the interconnected nature of global supply chains. To provide the highest possible level of service to your customers, consider the plans that you have in place for when something goes wrong in the supply chain.

Ready to protect yourself against supply chain disruptions? Connect with our global network of experts to see how C.H. Robinson can provide solutions for your business.

Sri Laxmana
Vice President Global Forwarding | Americas
Stay up to date with our latest blog posts

Our carrier experts will answer your questions, provide advice and offer insights.