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The saga of the stuck cargo ship that captured the world’s attention and spawned a legion of social media memes has largely faded from the spotlight now that the vessel has been freed. But the logjam in the international supply network may not smooth itself out for months, possibly leading to higher prices and shortages of goods.

Beyond the isolated event of a stranded ship is the larger, more urgent need to build flexibility and simplicity into complex commercial logistics, according to Northeastern faculty experts.

“The market was really pushing for more efficiency and economies of scale to drive down cost, but it wasn’t focused on what happens if some of this goes awry,” says Northeastern’s Stephen Flynn, considered one of the world’s leading experts on critical infrastructure and supply-chain resilience.

“It will take at least 60 days for the maritime and intermodal system to reset itself to the point where it functions at something close to normal,” Flynn, a political science professor and founder of the Global Resilience Institute, says.

Cracks in the world’s supply chains have happened before, but were magnified when the pandemic hit and there were shortages of masks, gloves, and vaccines. The grounding of a massive container ship weighing more than 200,000 tons and transporting more than 18,000 containers cast an even brighter spotlight because of the interdisciplinary nature of shipping.

“We see the same pattern over and over again,” says Nada Sanders, distinguished professor of supply chain management. “We saw it with [personal protective equipment]. We saw it with test kits. We’re seeing it with vaccines. Shipping is much more complicated because we have this interconnected, intertwined system” of supply chains, she adds.


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