Everything you need to know about the ship blocking the Suez Canal

you need to know about the ship blocking the Suez Canal
you need to know about the ship blocking the Suez Canal

The “Ever Given” from EverGreen ran aground in the Suez Canal, blocking one of the busiest waterways in the world. How it happened? How can the problem be fixed? Why is the event important? Here we explain it to you.

A gigantic backhoe and a squad of tugboats appear miniscule in front of the bulk of the container ship “Ever Given“, demonstrating the enormity of the challenge posed: freeing the embedded container ship, the size of a skyscraper, that has blocked the entire width the Suez Canal and has created a major traffic jam on one of the most important trade routes in the world

Tugboats and excavators work this Thursday (03.25.2021) while more than 150 ships that transport goods to destinations around the world with very tight schedules remained trapped at both ends of the channel, which links the Mediterranean and Red Seas. 

Throughout its 150-year history, the Egyptian Suez Canal has witnessed wars and crises, but nothing like the stranding of the “Ever Given”.

How it happened?

The incident “was mainly due to the lack of visibility due to weather conditions, while the winds reached 40 knots (74 km / h), which affected the control of the ship,” the Egyptian Canal Authority said on Wednesday. Suez (SCA) in a statement. 

According to Bernhard Schulte Shipmanagement (BSM), the Singapore-based company in charge of the technical management of the ship, all 25 crew members are safe and there was no contamination or damage to the ship’s cargo, with a capacity of more than 20,000 containers (TEU).

Cargo ships have grown in recent years to accommodate more containers, as fuel prices have risen as larger ships burn less fuel per container moved. Some have wondered if the ultra-large size of the “Ever Given” was a factor. 

Although the sheer size of the ships may increase the risk of them running aground in the Suez Canal, ships just as big and with equally strong winds have crossed the waterway without incident.

Instead, “a combination of factors” likely came into play, said Ian Woods, a marine cargo attorney and partner at Clyde & Co. 

“There is exposure to the elements, the possibility of a loss of power, the possibility of steering problems,” Woods said. We would expect a full investigation. ” 

The obstruction could prove embarrassing for Egypt, where the waterway has long been a symbol of national pride. President Abdel Fatah al Sisi invested $ 8.2 billion in a lavish expansion of the canal that was launched in 2015. However, the “Ever Given” got stuck just south of that new section.

How can the problem be fixed?

So far, the dredgers and tugs have not been able to free the ship. A team of salvage experts, whose job it is to respond to ship-related disasters, flew from the Netherlands to the canal on Thursday to join the effort.  

It already seems that the enormous weight of the ship, about 220,000 tons, could make it impossible to detach and float. To lighten the load, the team says it may have to remove at least some of the containers from the ship and empty its ballast water before continuing to dredge the area and try again to push the ship with tugs. 

Officials had initially indicated that they did not want to do that because the download itself could take days or weeks.   

Why it is important? 

More than 10% of world trade, including 7% of the world’s oil, passes through the canal. After the lockdown, the price of Brent crude, the international benchmark, soared 3% to $ 63 per barrel. 

The goods that pass through the canal usually go from east to west. In addition to oil, liquefied natural gas from the Persian Gulf and China’s furniture, clothing and supermarket staples use the canal to avoid taking a tortuous 5,000-kilometer route around Africa.  

Maritime magazine Lloyd’s List estimates that the closure of the inland waterway is immobilizing billions of dollars in merchandise each day the canal is closed – at a time when the coronavirus pandemic is already causing increased demand for goods from consumption-.  

Not only will deliveries be delayed, but the jam is also preventing the return of empty containers to Asia, exacerbating the container shortage caused by shipping disruptions due to the pandemic.