History professor a go-to expert for global media after Suez Canal blockage

When Egypt’s Suez Canal — the man-made waterway connecting the Mediterranean Sea and the Red Sea — was blocked by the massive Ever Given container ship for six days in March, the grounded ship shut down one of the world’s busiest trade routes and prevented nearly $10 billion worth of goods from getting to their destinations. 

The event made global news, and media outlets around the world were scrambling to talk to somebody with knowledge of the Suez Canal and global sea trade routes, somebody with knowledge of maritime history, somebody who could explain the economic impact of the canal’s blockage and, most importantly, somebody who’s good on camera and is quick on their feet when tough questions are thrown their way. 

They found all of those qualities in one man — Dr. Sal Mercogliano, associate professor of history at Campbell University, adjunct professor at the U.S. Merchant Marine Academy and expert in maritime history, nautical archeology and maritime industry policy.

In the past week, Mercogliano has appeared on nearly 30 national and international radio and television news programs — including BBC, Sky TV, Associated Press, Bloomberg, NPR, CNN, CNBC, MSNBC, Fox New York, Sirius XM and Radio South Korea — and has been featured in articles from the Washington Post, New York Times, L.A. Times, Reuters and The Guardian, to name a few. 

“It’s a big story,” says Mercogliano, who joined the Campbell faculty in 2010. “The Suez Canal is responsible for 12 percent of the world’s trade. It’s what we call a ‘maritime choke point,’ a topic I was already writing an essay about for the Center for International Maritime Security. The canal has been closed by ships in the past, but nothing in this scope or on this scale, because this was done by one of the largest ships in the world.”

Another reason for the media interest — the Ever Given is huge, 1,300 feet long, 200 feet wide and weighing more than 200,000 tons. Its length is the equivalent height of the Empire State Building. 

“And not only does it get stuck, but it gets stuck in the one part of the canal where there’s just one lane, and it gets stuck in the worst way possible,” Mercogliano adds. “It’s like when your car gets a flat, and there’s no service lane to pull over on.”

His sudden media fame is the result of a number of factors, Mercogliano says. His background as a merchant Marine, his career in higher education, his knowledge of large sailing vessels, his knowledge of the business side of the sea trading industry — they all contributed to the demand for his insight. 

And of all the things that prepared Mercogliano for his “moment,” he says it was his work doing color commentary and broadcasting for Campbell University lacrosse games that has made him most comfortable on camera. 

“I’ve just been really comfortable on air — and that’s something producers have told me over and over after these interviews, ‘You’re a natural at this,’” he says.

The televised interviews have taken place from his home via Zoom, and in all of them, the words “professor at Campbell University” have been spoken and Mercogliano’s Gaylord and Gladys Campbell bobbleheads have been strategically placed in the background. 

In other words, not only has it been great exposure for Mercogliano, but it’s been free publicity for Campbell University. 

“I’ve had a few people tell me that I seem to be really enjoying myself through all of this, and to be honest with you, I am,” he says. “Look, I feel terrible that 12 percent of the world’s economy was close to collapsing, but this is what I’ve studied my entire life. I think I bring a passion to this subject, and people seem to like it. They want somebody who’s enthusiastic and knowledgeable on this subject, and certainly I’m both.”