It sounds like an April Fool’s joke, but it’s true – after 160 years of easing world shipping routes, the Suez waterway will be closed for container shipping. There’s just not enough demand to warrant the enormous expense of keeping the route open and operating. The abrupt turnaround has caught owners of megaships by surprise, as new logistics models take over.
Not only has the global movement of consumer goods and commodities declined significantly, but the pattern and flow of trade has been completely disrupted by exponential technologies. Social, economic and environmental trends have also conspired to bring the days of big shipping to an end. Global trade no longer runs like it did in the 2020s.
New technologies like 3D printing and molecular manufacturing have completely reversed the need to send raw materials to Asia and finished goods to Europe. Now the vast majority of products and components are created at the point of use, and on demand. The specialized ‘inks’ and input materials for these industries are high value and require short lead times; big ships are just too slow.
Thanks to climate change, Russia’s northern route via the Arctic has become more valuable. China’s Belt and Road has dramatically accelerated rail and road transport across Asia and Europe, while airfreight has boomed. SpaceX has launched ‘space shipping’, Starships carrying hundreds of tons of cargo from Shanghai to New York in under an hour. It’s the only way to send expensive goods and uses less fuel than a 747 freighter.
As renewable energy has beaten out fossil fuels, there’s not much demand for oil tankers, and most gas is shipped by pipeline. Undersea cables carrying electrons and hyperloop tunnels for cargo are the busiest networks now!
The Suez Canal is still open for smaller craft and cruises; it’s one of those ‘must see’ items like the pyramids, a relic from the past. Egypt has put all its efforts into tourism, in an effort to recoup the lost revenue from tolls. Just like taking the Orient Express, cruising the Suez is now for recreation, not trade.