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CONTAINERSHIP BLOCKAGE AT SUEZ CANAL COULD TAKE “WEEKS” TO BE RESOLVED
March 25, 2021
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The Suez canal blockage seen from an Airbus satellite. Airbus photo (March 25, 2021). Retrieved from https://twitter.com/AirbusSpace/status/1375078054884749318

The ultra-large containership stuck in the Suez Canal could take “weeks” to be moved, blocking one of the world’s busiest shipping channels and creating a new setback for global trade, as officials announced halting all ships from entering the channel until the situation is resolved. 

 

The 20,000 TEU-class container ship, EVER GIVEN, currently leased by Evergreen Marine Corp., under a time charter agreement with the crew hired by the shipowner, ran aground and became lodged sideways across the waterway on Tuesday.

 

“Evergreen Marine Corp. received a notice from the owner of EVER GIVEN that the chartered vessel ran aground in the Suez Canal at around 8 am local time on March 23,” the Taiwanese transport company said in a statement. 

 

Gusting winds said to have caused the vessel grounding

 

“This accident occurred at 6 nautical miles from the southern entry of the Canal as the container ship proceeded northbound through the waterway from the Red Sea. Gusting winds of 30 knots caused the container ship to deviate from its course, suspectedly leading to the grounding,” it added.

 

The ship is currently deployed on a Far East-Europe service route.

 

The Suez Canal Authority earlier said poor visibility caused by a dust storm and wind speeds reaching 40 knots, resulted in a “loss of the ability to steer the ship.”

 

In a separate update on March 25, Evergreen confirmed that progress has yet to be made in the efforts to refloat the vessel and clear the waterway.

 

“After 48 hours of proactive efforts to re-float Ever Given, the time chartered vessel’s grounding situation has not been resolved,” Evergreen said, noting, however, that the crew, ship and cargo are all safe, and no marine pollution has materialized.

 

There had also been no blackout resulting in loss of power prior to the ship’s grounding.

 

“The shipowner has appointed two maritime professional rescue teams from the Netherlands (Smit Salvage) and Japan (Nippon Salvage) to attend the ship. These teams will be working with the Captain and the Suez Canal Authority to design a more effective plan for refloating the vessel as soon as possible,” the Taiwanese transport company added.

 

At 400 meters long and 59 meters wide, EVER GIVEN, a container ship longer than the Eiffel Tower, has blocked the trade route of other vessels which are now trapped in lines in both ways — leaving dozens of ships in gridlock as they attempt to make way between the Red Sea and the Mediterranean carrying vital supplies from oil to consumer goods.

 

Self Photos / Files - 1 (1)

 

This also makes it the largest vessel ever to go aground in the Suez Canal, according to reports.

  

Bernhard Schulte Shipmanagement (BSM), the company that manages the container vessel said separately that the focus remains on refloating the ultra-large container ship.

 

In a statement, it said its “immediate priorities are to safely re-float the vessel and for marine traffic in the Suez Canal to safely resume.”

 

The Suez Canal Authority (SCA) earlier said eight tug boats were working to move the vessel — in efforts to refloat the vessel as diggers on the ground have been removing sand from where it is wedged diagonally across the single-lane southern stretch of the canal. 

 

Bloomberg reported that the blockage affected “about 42 vessels either in the northbound convoy or arriving in transit the canal northbound.” About 64 vessels travelling southbound were also reportedly impacted by the incident as 15 other affected vessels are waiting at anchorage.

 

Temporary suspension of navigation through the Suez Canal

 

On March 25, the Suez Canal Authority announced the temporary halting of vessel crossings at the waterway.

 

“Navigation through the Suez Canal is temporarily suspended. That is only until the floatation works of the large Panamanian container vessel EVER GIVEN; which ran aground at the 151 km area (Canal Marking), are complete,” said Admiral Osama Rabie, chairman and managing director of the Suez Canal Authority said.

 

“His Excellency has declared that yesterday witnessed the transit of 13 vessels from Port said, among the Northern convoy, that was expected to continue their transit through the Canal according to projections on the time of completion of the floatation works of the grounding vessel. However, an alternative scenario had to be adopted; which entailed those vessels dropping anchor in the Bitter Lakes waiting area, until navigation can be fully resumed after the floatation of the vessels,” he added.
 

The floatation efforts included towing and pushing the grounding vessel using 8 large tugboats; the largest of which is BARAKA 1 with a towing power of 160 tons, the Suez Canal Authority further announced.

 
Ever Given plying China to Rotterdam route
 
The ultra-mega containership was travelling from China to Rotterdam, where Europe's busiest port is located. The vessel is also reportedly carrying cargo for Hong Kong-based logistics company Orient Overseas Container Line Ltd. (OOCL).

 

The Suez Canal blockage could mean that vessels need to reroute. Bypassing the Suez Canal — which makes it the shortest route between East and West — by traveling around the Cape of Good Hope can add “another two weeks” to the Asia-Europe navigation time, leading to additional costs and further disruptions to the already strained shipping schedules.

 

About 12% of global trade passes through the 193-kilometre-long (120 miles) Suez Canal.

 

Experts warned that the canal could be blocked “for days,” but Reuters reported that according to Peter Berdowski, CEO of Dutch company Boskalis — one of the two rescue teams trying to free the ship — that the efforts could drag on to weeks.

 

“We can’t exclude it might take weeks, depending on the situation,”  Berdowski said.

 

Nearly 19,000 vessels passed through the Suez Canal in 2020, according to the Suez Canal Authority or an average of 51.5 ships transiting through the world's second-busiest canal, daily. 
 
Meanwhile, Evergreen Line said it will continue to coordinate with the shipowner and Suez Canal Authority to deal with the situation with the  “utmost urgency, ensuring the resumption of the voyage as soon as possible and to mitigate the effects of the incident.
 
As the vessel is chartered, it also said the responsibility for the expense incurred in the recovery operation; third party liability and the cost of repair (if any) is the owners.
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