Maritime traffic at one of the world’s busiest waterways ground to a halt for nearly a week recently when the 1,312-foot-long container ship Ever Given ran aground while passing through the Suez Canal.
Hundreds of commercial ships were left stranded at the canal connecting the Mediterranean to the Red Sea.
Even the U.S. Navy had to scramble to carry out its combat mission against the Islamic State while still in the Mediterranean because of the traffic jam within the Suez Canal, a top U.S. commander said Monday.
It was critical to support U.S. Central Command in the fight against ISIS even if the USS Eisenhower strike group was still stuck in European waters, Admiral Michael Gilday, Chief of Naval Operations, told reporters with the Defense Writers Group.
“The key thing was to maintain a presence in the European [area of responsibility] and at the same time be in a position to provide critical support for CentCom if the forces on the ground needed it,” Admiral Gilday said. “We tried to make the best use of the situation we were faced with.”
The decision was eventually made to move the USS Eisenhower to the eastern sections of the Mediterranean and continue flying missions, Navy officials said.
“We did conduct some overland sorties in support of CentCom,” Admiral Gilday said.
About $10 billion per day in shipping costs was lost because of the bottleneck at the Suez Canal. Sailing around the Cape of Good Hope in South Africa was the only other option for many commercial vessels.
“It certainly put a focus on the fragility of choke points and how important they are,” Admiral Gilday said.
He said the U.S. Central Command region, which includes the Middle East and Afghanistan, is a maritime military theater because of the importance of the three critical choke points — the Suez Canal, linking the Mediterranean with the Red Sea; the Bab el-Mandeb, connecting the Red Sea to the Gulf of Aden; and the Strait of Hormuz, linking the Persian Gulf and the Gulf of Oman.
A small flotilla of tug boats eventually freed the Ever Given last week, allowing ship traffic to continue along the Suez Canal, including the U.S.S. Eisenhower and its carrier strike group.
“Our strike group is excited to sail and fly in the conduct of our operations in the Red Sea,” said Rear Admiral Scott F. Robertson, commander of Carrier Strike Group Two. “The importance of our regional partnerships throughout the U.S. Fifth Fleet cannot be overstated.”