‘A very big problem’. Giant ship in Suez remains stuck.


MANSHIYET RUGOLA, Egypt – The giant container ship that has blocked world trade by getting stuck in the Suez Canal has loomed over Umm Gaafar’s dusty brick house for four days, humming its deep mechanical hum.

She looked up from where she sat on the bumpy dirt road and considered what the ship, the Ever Given, might carry in all those containers. Flat screen TVs? Large refrigerators, washing machines, or ceiling fans? Neither she nor her neighbors in the village of Manshiyet Rugola, with a population of 5,000, had any of them at home.

“Why don’t you take out one of those containers?” joked Umm Gaafar, 65. “There could be something good there. Maybe it could feed the city. “

The Japanese-owned Ever Given and the nearly 300 cargo ships now waiting to cross the Suez Canal, one of the world’s most critical maritime arteries, could supply Manshiyet Rugola many, many times.

Transporting cars, oil, livestock, laptops, jet fuel, scrap metal, grain, sweaters, sneakers, appliances, toilet paper, toys, medical equipment, and much more, ships were supposed to supply much of the world, and the canal was supposed to supply much of the world. they have been his fastest way from Asia and the Middle East to Europe and the east coast of the United States.

A shipping agent on the canal said Saturday morning that dredgers had managed to excavate the rear of the ship, and a spokesperson for the Suez Canal Economic Zone posted on Facebook that the ship’s rudder had been released. But as a salvage team and canal authorities continued to fight to dislodge the leviathan four football fields long from the sandbar where it ran aground on Tuesday, blocking all shipping traffic through the canal, global supply chains they waved closer to a full-blown one. crisis.

Shipping analysts estimated that the colossal traffic jam was already holding back nearly $ 10 billion in trade each day.

“All of the world’s retail trade is containerized, or 90 percent of it,” said Alan Murphy, founder of Sea-Intelligence, a maritime data and analytics firm. “So everything is affected. Name any brand and they will stick to one of those containers. “

Alleviating the bottleneck depends on the rescuers’ ability to clear the sand and mud where the Ever Given is stuck and lighten the ship’s load enough to help it float again, all while the tugs try to push and free it. Your best chance may come Monday, when a spring tide will raise the canal’s water level by as much as 18 inches, analysts and shipping agents said.

On Friday, the company that oversees the ship’s operations and crew, Bernhard Schulte Shipmanagement, said more and more larger tugs had arrived to help, with two more by Sunday. Several dredgers, including a specialized suction dredger that can extract 2,000 cubic meters of material per hour, were digging around the ship’s bow, which is wedged into the eastern bank of the canal, the company said. He added that high-capacity pumps would start pumping water from the ship’s ballast tanks to lighten the ship.

A video taken from the ship and provided by Mohammed Mosselhy, the owner of First Suez International, a maritime logistics company on the canal, showed several excavators constantly digging at the edge of the turquoise water near the bow of the ship.

The team of eight Dutch naval architects and salvage experts overseeing the operation will need to inspect the ship and the seabed and create a computer model to help them work around the ship without damaging it, said Capt.Nick Sloane, a South African salvage captain. . who led the operation to straighten the Costa Concordia, the cruise ship that capsized in 2012 off the coast of Italy.

They will need to clear other vessels from the area, a massive coordination effort. And they will need to take into account the possibility that the Ever Given’s shore connection has rearranged the seafloor, making it difficult for other ships to pass through the area even after it has moved, said Captain Paul Foran, a marine consultant who He has worked in other salvage operations.

Meanwhile, they must hope that Ever Given remains intact. With the ship sunk in the middle, its bow and stern trapped in positions it was not designed for, the hull is vulnerable to stresses and cracks, both experts said.

Mosselhy said diver teams were already inspecting the hull and had yet to find damage. But in most other respects, the Ever Given had succumbed to Murphy’s Law: everything that could go wrong it did, starting with the size of the ship, among the largest in the world.

“It was the largest ship in the convoy and ended up in the worst part of the canal,” a narrow section with a single lane, Capt.Sloane said. “And that was really unfortunate.”

If tugs, dredgers, and pumps can’t do the job, they could be joined by a staggering array of boats and specialized machines requiring perhaps hundreds of workers: small tankers to pull fuel from the ship; the tallest cranes in the world to unload some of its containers one by one; and, if no crane is high enough or close enough, heavy-duty helicopters that can pick up containers of up to 20 tons, although no one has said where the cargo would go. (A full 40-foot container can weigh up to 40 tons.)

Captain Sloane estimated that the operation would take at least a week. When a ship of similar size, the CSCL Indian Ocean, ran aground near the port of Hamburg in 2016, it took almost six days to clear the Elbe River.

All this because, in a nutshell: “This is a very large ship; this is a very big problem, ”said Richard Meade, editor-in-chief of Lloyd’s List, a London-based maritime intelligence publication. “I don’t think there is any doubt that they have everything they need. It’s just a question of, it’s a very big problem. “

If the ship is released by Monday, the shipping industry can absorb the downside, analysts said, but beyond that, supply chains and consumers could start to see major disruptions.

Some ships have already decided not to wait, making a U-turn from Suez to take the longest way around the southern tip of Africa, a trip that could add weeks to the trip and cost more than $ 26,000 an additional day in fuel costs.

In Manshiyet Rugola, whose name translates to “The Little Village of Manhood”, traffic jams of any kind would be hard to imagine in ordinary times.

Donkey carts full of clovers tumbled down semi-paved lanes between low brick houses and green fields lined with palm trees, garbage and animal droppings. A teenager was selling ice cream from his motorcycle. The roosters offered profane competition to the call to prayer at noon. Until the Ever Given appeared, the minarets of the less imposing mosques were the tallest structures around.

“Do you want to see the ship?” a boy asked a couple of visiting journalists, moving excitedly under his car window. Ever since the earthquake-like rumble from the stranded ship shook many awake around 7 a.m. Tuesday, the Ever Given had been the only theme in town.

“The whole town was watching,” said Youssef Ghareeb, 19, a factory worker. “We’ve gotten so used to having her around, because we’ve been living on our rooftops just looking at the ship for four days.”

Everyone agreed that the view was even better at night, when the ship was shining with light: a skyscraper just on the horizon of a big city, lying on its side.

“When it lights up at night, it’s like the Titanic,” said Nadia, who, like her neighbor Umm Gaafar, declined to give her full name due to security forces in the area. “All that’s missing is the necklace from the movie.”

Umm Gaafar had asked to use her nickname so as not to get angry with government security personnel who had passed by, warning residents not to take photos of the canal and generally spreading unrest. Nadia said she was too intimidated to take pictures of the ship at night, although she really wanted to.

Villagers and shipping analysts had the same question about Ever Given, if it was based on a different experience. The ship’s operators have insisted the ship ran aground due to strong winds from a sandstorm, with the stacked containers acting like a giant sail, yet other ships in the same convoy passed without incident. So had previous ships in previous storms, villagers noted.

“We have seen worse winds,” said 19-year-old Ahmad al-Sayed, a security guard, “but nothing like that has ever happened before.”

Shipping experts said the wind could have been the main factor, exacerbating other physical forces, but suggested that human error may also have come into play.

“I’m very questioning, why was he the only one who ran aground?” Captain Foran said. “But you can talk about all of that later. Right now, they just have to get that beast out of the canal. “

Nada Rashwan contributed reporting.

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