- Memes about the Suez Canal came thick and fast while the Ever Given was grounded.
- Workers in Suez saw them, and were spurred to work harder, one told The Washington Post.
- With the world looking on, clearing the canal was a point of Egyptian national pride.
- See more stories on Insider’s business page.
When the Ever Given, an ultra-large container ship, got stuck in one of the world’s most important waterways, the world reacted with fascination — and memes.
Those memes travelled the world, and got back to Suez, where they were seen by the mariners who worked night and day to free the ship since it was grounded on March 23.
One of them is cited in a long feature on the rescue operation by The Washington Post’s Sudarsan Raghavan, Siobhán O’Grady, and Steve Hendrix.
The report describes how tugboat workers, 32-year-old Eslam Negm, saw Egypt’s international reputation on the line.
The story said:
“Eslam Negm, 32, watched from the deck of the Baraka 1 tugboat and thought of the all the Internet memes about the marooned ship. The world had been laughing at Egypt. ‘No one was able to see how much pressure we were under,’ he said.”
Looking on from outside, the moment seemed made for the internet.
One photo — of the giant ship lodged next to a tiny lone digger — lent itself to endless visual gags on futility.
Digital cut-outs of the ship’s vast bulk seemed to be inserted into every cultural reference possible, from a graphic illustrating the “trolley problem” to an iconic scene from the Austin Powers spy spoof movies.
Egyptians — known regionally for their sense of humour — got in on the game with dozens of jokes too, sharing memes such as this one:
On the ground, workers had a very different experience, according to the Post. The ship is Japanese-owned, managed by a Taiwanese company, flies under a Panamanian flag, and has an Indian crew.
But with the Suez Canal an essential part of the Egyptian economy, Egyptian canal workers felt the pressure.
By the third day of blockage, London-based shipping news organization Lloyd’s List had estimated that the cost to global trade of the blockage was $400 million per hour.
A backlog had built up of around 400 vessels waiting to pass through the canal from both sides, and shipping giant Maersk said that the ripple effect on the global supply chain would last months.
Between 23 and 25 March, excavators and 10 Egyptian tugboats toiled to dislodge the vessel, before being joined by a specialist dredging team from Dutch company Boskalis.
The key equipment arrived Sunday and Monday in the form of two large tugboats — the Italian Carlo Magno and the Dutch Alp Guard respectively, the Post reported.
Tugboat workers cheered Sunday, honking their horns, when small progress was made and they felt the Ever Given shift slightly. But the final push came later, as the tide swelled to its height.
When the ship finally came free, “We all had goose bumps,” one tugboat worker, Mahmoud Shalaby, told the Post. “We forgot about all our troubles.”
The ship’s release prompted President Abd El-Fattah El-Sisi to take a victory lap on Twitter and emphasize the role of Egyptian workers in the effort.
“By restoring matters to their normal course, with Egyptian hands, the whole world can be assured of the path of its goods and needs that are carried through this navigational artery,” Reuters reported him as posting to Facebook.
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