On March 23 2021, a mega containership Ever Given lost control in the midst of a dust storm and high winds and became wedged across the Suez canal causing a long traffic jam with about 400 ships being delayed resulting in a global trade loss of $9 billion.
The Ever Given incident highlighted the vulnerabilities of the Suez route for both the Japanese government and its business community as the Ever Given is owned by Shoei Kisen Kaisha and built by Imabari Shipbuilding, both of them Japanese companies. Both the companies are still in negotiations with the Egyptian government to free the detained mega containership
As per an Al Jazeera report, Japan’s government is considering investing further in alternative trade routes through Russia — including the Trans-Siberian Railway and the Northern Sea Route — in the wake of the Suez Canal blockage in March.
James D J Brown, associate professor at Temple University Japan told Al Jazeera that “The blocking of the Suez Canal accelerated things.”
The two potential alternatives for Japan are reliant on Russia. One is the Trans-Siberian Railway and the other is the Northern Sea Route. These goals were in fact promoted by Russia. In May 2018, Russian President Vladimir Putin signed the “Executive Order on National Goals and Strategic Objectives of the Russian Federation”.
The melting of Arctic ice is making the Northern sea route a viable option. Between June and December these routes require ice breakers. In spite of this, Japan is increasing its ships through this region. In 2020 more than 133 Japanese ships traversed through this route. It was only 87 in 2019.
Apart from the sea routes, Japan is trying to use the Trans Siberian Railways which is a network of Railways connecting western Russia to the Russian far east. It starts from Moscow and ends at Vladivostok. Vladivostok is close to North Korea-Russia border.