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The story of the longest traffic jam in human history

The story of the longest traffic jam in human history

If I ask you how the longest traffic jam in human history would look like, what would you say? How long would it be? How many hours, days, or maybe months?


Honestly, if someone asked us the same question, we would say three days. Or maximum a week!? Come-on, not more than this.

BUT, the world NEVER fails to surprise us.

Here is the story for today: THE LONGEST TRAFFIC JAM IN HUMAN HISTORY.

This is the story of June 5, 1967, when 15 ships entered the Suez Canal to complete their 12-hour journey from Europe to the Red Ocean and then later to the final destination, South East Asia. But who knew that a 12-hour journey through Suez Canal would last for eight years! Yes, 8 YEARS! This is how the real longest traffic jam looked like.

Some background about the Suez Canal.

Suez Canal, opened in 1869 through Egypt, was a prominent success for international trade as prior to its opening, a ship travelling from India to London would have to go all through the Atlantic ocean, loop around Africa, enter the Red Sea and then to India. Such a journey is not just time-consuming but also very expensive in terms of fuel and man-hours. With Suez Canal, the ships now entered directly from the Mediterranean Sea to the Red Sea in a 12 hour Suez Canal journey. See the image below and compare.

Back to the story.

It was in 1967 when 15 ships entered the Suez Canal as a routine trade drill to transport the cargo from Europe to East Africa and Southeast Asia. In that time, Egypt didn’t bond well with its immediate neighbour, Israel. When these ships entered the Canal on that day, there was a sudden attack from Israel on Egypt, and during this six-day war between the two nations, the 15 ships got trapped in the 120-mile waterway. Suez Canal was now a sight for fighter planes, bombs, and constant firing.

This war of June ended with Israel in control of the Sinai Peninsula all the way to the Suez Canal. Now, Suez Canal was literally the new border between Israel and Egypt. As a response to this victory of Israel, Egypt blockaded both ends of the canal with mines, scuttled ships, and demolished bridges. This not only created a real problem for the international trade as now they will now have to take a longer route as explained earlier, but it was also a nightmare particularly for the fifteen ships which were transiting the canal on the day it closed. Unable to leave, the vessels moored together at Great Bitter Lake, which actually became like a mini-country in the middle of the Suez Canal for those 8 years the ships were trapped. This was the 8-year-old traffic jam!

The ships were flying under eight different flags: four were British, two each were West German, American, Swedish, and Polish, and one each French, Bulgarian, and Czechoslovakian. Together they created a family and bonded well together in these eight years. On the British Deck, football matches and their very own tournaments were organised, Swedish crew threw great parties, weekly church meeting organized on a German freighter, movie nights on the Bulgarian ship and much more. During the 1968 Olympics, the sailors held their own "Bitter Lake Olympic Games," with lifeboat races in the canal and soccer matches on the deck of the MS Port Invercargill.

As time passed, the sand from the Sinai desert began settling on this fleet, and the fleet came to be known as the ‘Yellow Fleet’. Time passed by, and there was another surprise attack waiting for them. 6 years into the hassle, another, war broke between Egypt and Israel but this time Egypt launched the attack on Israel coupled with Syria from the north. They succeeded for a temporary period where they gained back control on the Sinai Peninsula but lost it in a counterattack by Israel. After a year of fighting and a lot of causalities, both the parties finally signed a ceasefire agreement, restoring the lost long peace. After this, it took Egypt another year to clear the debris from the Suez Canal, finally reopening the canal. Later, Israel also returned the Sanai Peninsula to Egypt.

With this re-opening back of the Suez Canal, there were only two German ships who were in a condition to sail back to their home country, where they were hailed by 30,000 cheering people.

And this was the story for today, the longest traffic jam known to humankind.

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