Risk Lessons, From A Grounded Ship In Suez To A Global Pandemic
A pandemic and a maritime accident teach us the same lessons: humility, fragility and ultimately human ingenuity. Risk is impossible to predict, except that we know it always exists.
A monster made out of steel can also fear the elusive Aeolus. This is the case for the Ever Given. A gust of wind was enough to make this enormous container ship — longer than the Eiffel Tower and twenty times heavier — run aground in the Suez Canal.
This incident has nothing to do with the pandemic that has devastated the planet for a year ... except that these stories teach us the same lessons. First, it teaches us to be humble. Humans know how to design an artificial heart, but they are still unable to control a virus that has already killed nearly three million women and men. We also know how to build a giant ship capable of weathering storms while carrying 20,000 metal containers, a system that has revolutionized freight transport. And yet, we can't prevent this ship from blocking a vital artery of global trade.
Rescue experts are now hoping that Mother Nature will free what she has blocked and that a tide will be enough to counteract the effect of the winds on Ever Given.
Hundreds of ships are waiting at the entrance of the Suez Canal — Photo: Ahmed Gomaa/Xinhua via ZUMA Press
It's also a lesson about our own fragility. A virus invisible to the naked eye was enough to cause an unprecedented drop in global activity last year that is being counted in the trillions of dollars. A gust of wind was enough to block a channel through which more than 10% of global trade and two million barrels of oil pass every day. Hundreds of ships are already waiting at the entrance to the waterway, and may eventually have to resort to going around Africa to reach their destination. In this case too, the costs would be high. Trade journal Lloyd's List talks about a figure close to $10 billion per day.
For the virus as for the Suez Canal, the solution comes or will come from the ingenuity of a few individuals.
For companies, this is one more reason to work on risk mapping, keeping in mind that nothing is "ever a given" (as the name of the ship suggests): health, access to markets, the possibility of manufacturing here or passing through there, an offer from a supplier or funding from a investor. The most unlikely chains of events are not necessarily the most improbable. We are not done talking about agility, resilience and creativity.