Profound lesson learnt from ship jammed across Suez Canal

Tuesday, 2021-03-30 16:46:50
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The Ever Given, after it was fully floated on March 29, 2021. (Photo: Reuters)
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NDO – The Ever Given container ship jammed across the Suez Canal has been freed, easing concerns about intermittent international trade flows, but this is also a profound lesson in ensuring the security and safety of shipping routes.

>>> Ship swings back across Suez Canal before next tugging attempt, witness and source say

Efforts to rescue the super ship blocking the Egyptian canal were successful after nearly a week, delaying all activities on a route serving up to 15% of the world's shipping capacity. Concerns about intermittent international trade flows have been cleared up, but it also offers a profound lesson in ensuring the security and safety of shipping routes, as the unexpected and unpredictable impact of the incident on the Suez Canal made the global trading system rock.

The Ever Given, which carries the Panama flag, is longer than the total length of four football fields and carries a payload of 199,000 tonnes, ran aground when it entered the Suez Canal from the Red Sea. This incident left trade virtually paralysed through the 190-km canal. As the fastest waterway connecting Europe and Asia, the canal, inaugurated in 1869, is a vital transport route for the transportation of crude oil, chemicals and refined products from the Middle East and Asia Pacific to Europe and North America. In 2020, 18,829 ships carrying 1.17 billion tonnes of cargo passed through the Suez Canal. The incident caused more than 300 vessels to be blocked at both ends of the canal, including many tankers, and this is believed to have caused oil prices to rise by about 5%.

According to economists, if sea traffic congestion in the canal persists, it will affect the shipping activities of the world. Vessels carrying goods to Europe and the East American coast will have to bypass Africa, thus increasing shipping costs and prolonging the time to transport goods. Major ocean carriers would have to navigate many of their ships on a longer route through the Cape of Good Hope (South Africa), making the travel schedule at least seven days longer.

Meanwhile, goods with a total value of between US$3 billion and US$9.6 billion have been floating at sea, bringing with it many risks. About 1.74 million barrels of oil are transported through the canal every day and about 100 ships loaded with barrels of oil or petrochemical products are anchored in the waiting area.

Concerns about slowing trade on the world's arterial waterways prompted the Egyptian authorities and other countries to quickly rescue the ship. The volume of cargo on board and other ships anchored and waiting to move through the canal would prove to be a very heavy burden if rescue work took too long. Egypt was "on pins and needles" in a race against time to rescue the super ship as the country was losing estimated revenue of US$12-14 million per day.

Many rescue scenarios were launched, with some countries ready to provide help to Egypt’s rescue mission. After six days of struggling to find a solution, on March 29, 11 tugboats gradually moved the Ever Given out of its jammed position. During the troubleshooting process, the rescue team dredged about 27,000 cubic metres of sand on either side of the Suez Canal down to a depth of about 18 metres in order to provide access to the stranded ship. The bow was partially damaged but the entire structure was said to be stable. According to the management authorities of the canal in Egypt, the ship has been turned back on the right track "by 80%". Sources from the scene showed that the super-container ship has gradually escaped the stranded area, moving along the water current and returned to its normal direction of movement, creating the necessary gaps on the canal’s surface. Technical teams preliminarily inspected the ship, along with starting the engines and the ship is now about to be towed towards the Great Lakes Area.

The whole world eagerly awaits news of the campaign to rescue the stranded ship on the Suez Canal. The new information has partially relieved concerns about the delay in trade activities on this extremely important waterway. The head of the Suez Canal Authority said that strong winds and weather factors were not the main cause of the ship’s issues, but more so technical or human error, and these factors are being clarified in the investigative process. It is estimated that after rescuing the Ever Given, it will take three to six days to facilitate the hundreds of ships currently waiting to cross the strait.

The incident shows the decisive spirit of Egypt in its rescue campaign as well as the willingness of the international community to assist. Whatever the cause of this incident, this is also a profound lesson for the managers and those involved in water transport, because it is very likely "one wrong step leads to another". A stranded ship can disrupt global supply chains. A small incident can cause a terrible ripple effect, even disrupting the flow of international trade and causing many unpredictable consequences.