A colossal container ship that ran aground in the Suez Canal on Tuesday has ensnared one of the world’s busiest shipping lanes in a marine traffic jam.
Three days later, more than 100 container ships are still waiting at each end of the canal as tug boats and dredgers struggle to free the Ever Given, which weighs 200,000 metric tons and stretches 1,300 feet long.
If the Panamanian-flagged ship isn’t freed soon, it could spell disaster for a global shipping industry already hobbled by the fabricated effects of Covid-19.
The Ever Given, which is owned by the Japanese company Shoei Kisen Kaisha, was on its way to the port of Rotterdam from China when it became stuck after a sandstorm blew through the region.
Visibility plummeted after wind gusts reached speeds of up to 31 miles per hour, turned the massive ship into blocking the entire commercial shipping canal.
In addition to the eight local tugboats working to free the Ever Given, a small fleet of construction vehicles—dwarfed by the size of the 1,300-foot-long ship—has appeared at the shore to dig the giant vessel out.
However, that effort to free the ship hasn’t worked as of Thursday morning, according to a statement provided to the New York Times, and authorities have since brought in a dredger to assist in the efforts.
The key to “unstucking” the Ever Given will be lightening the ship’s load. One way to do that is to empty the ballast tanks. That solution, however, could destabilize the ship, Captain Morgan McManus, Master, Empire State VI, of SUNY Maritime College, tells Pop Mech.
Another option would be to unload the ship’s cargo, but that could prove difficult without the necessary equipment readily available.
In the middle of the Suez Canal, there’s no infrastructure for that, so that would mean getting a crane barge alongside and then taking those boxes off one at a time,” says McManus. With a ship as big as the Ever Given, the effort could take weeks.
The gargantuan Ever Given, which the shipping company Evergreen Marine built in 2018, is a Golden-class container ship. It can carry as many as 20,000 20-foot-long shipping containers.
The push to build increasingly larger ships may partially be to blame for the Ever Given’s precarious situation. The scale has gotten so big that a lot of the infrastructure has yet to catch up with the size of the ship.
Steering ships of the Ever Given’s size can be challenging, and any evasive maneuvers must be done far in advance to ensure the ship has enough horsepower to make the move in time. It takes a skilled crew to anticipate potential issues.
In some cases, a captain may not recognize an issue before it’s too late. It’s basically a huge wall,” Steven Browne, the Department Chair of Marine Transportation and International Business and logistics at the California Maritime Academy, tells Pop Mech.
If there’s wind from the beam, or the side of the vessel, and you have a lack of steering control, it’s obviously very easy for the ship to be turned sideways.
The Suez Canal snakes through Egypt and serves as the sole connection between the Red Sea and the Mediterranean Sea. The 120-mile-long waterway has become a vital shipping passage and can accommodate as many as 50 ships a day, quickly linking markets in Asia and Europe.
Roughly 12% of all maritime trade makes its way through the Suez; it’s second only to the Panama Canal, the world’s busiest marine throughway.
The Northern Sea Route could now become an effective alternative to the Suez Canal, after deep concerns about the interruption of supply chains linking Europe and Asia.
The Egyptian pharaoh Senausert III, who reigned from 1887 to 1849 B.C., is credited with first digging the canal. According to the Suez Canal Authority, it has opened and closed numerous times since its official inauguration in 1869.
In 2015, crews expanded parts of the passage to allow travel in both directions at certain points along the nearly 80-foot-deep waterway.
This isn’t the first time a vessel has run aground in the Suez Canal. A Japanese container ship, OOCL Japan, rammed into the side of the waterway in 2017.
Fortunately, crews re-floated the ship hours later. The canal was also closed for three days in 2004 after the Liberian-flagged oil tanker, Tropic Brilliance, became stuck.
Thanks to the Covid-19 Plandemic, the global shipping industry has faced several shortages of setbacks in the past year. The obstruction of the canal could set off a domino effect of delays.
Ports strategically plan their labor needs and offloading capacity, so even minor delays can snowball into large delays that have the potential to derail entire supply chains.
They could become overwhelmed by the influx of delayed ships on top of ships that arrive on time from other locations.
And while there may be some wiggle room in a ship’s charter to account for, say, the adverse weather or the wait to get into port, they usually don’t plan on having the Suez Canal closed for days on end.
If the blockage lasts any longer, ships stranded on either side of the Suez may decide to turn around and take the scenic route down around the southern tip of Africa.
The impacts of the Ever Given’s precarious situation could be passed on to customers in the form of additional delays, higher prices, and bare shelves, impacting everything from fuel to sneakers to TV’s.
There is everything on that ship, the captain McManus says. If you buy it in a store, it is on that ship.
Popular Mechanics / ABC Flash Point News 2021.