Maritime traffic jam grows out of blocked Suez Canal


SUEZ, Egypt – A maritime traffic jam rose to more than 200 vessels on Friday outside the Suez Canal and some vessels began to change course as dredgers worked frantically to free a giant container ship that is stuck sideways in the waterway. and disrupting global shipping.

A salvage expert said that freeing the freighter, the Ever Given, could take up to a week at best and warned of possible structural problems on the ship as it remains wedged.

The Suez Canal Authority said it appreciated international offers to help free the ship, including one from the United States, although it did not say what kind of assistance was offered.

The Ever Given, owned by Japanese firm Shoei Kisen KK, was trapped on Tuesday in a single-lane stretch of the canal, about 3.7 miles north of the south entrance, near the city of Suez. The vessel remained ashore Friday morning, said Leth Agencies, which services the canal.

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Tugboats and a specialized suction dredger were attempting to dislodge him, as Egyptian authorities prohibited media access to the site.

In addition to the more than 200 vessels waiting near the canal, more than 100 vessels were heading for the waterway, according to data firm Refinitiv.

Apparently anticipating long delays, the owners of the stuck ship diverted a sister ship, the Ever Greet, to head for Africa instead, according to satellite data.

Others are also diverting to avoid the canal. Liquefied natural gas carrier Pan Americas changed course in the mid-Atlantic, now pointing south to circle the southern tip of Africa, according to satellite data from MarineTraffic.com.

About 10% of world trade flows through the canal, which is particularly crucial for the transportation of oil. The shutdown could also affect oil and gas shipments to Europe from the Middle East.

Capt. Nicolas Sloane, a marine salvage expert who led the high-profile effort to rescue the cruise ship Costa Concordia in 2012, said that removing the Ever Given is “quite a challenge” and could take anywhere from five days to a week.

The Ever Given’s location, size and large cargo load make the operation more complex, Sloane said. The operation should initially focus on dredging the bank and the seabed around it to float again, rather than unloading its cargo, which could take weeks.

That’s because the clock is also structurally advanced for the vessel, he added.

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“The later, the worse the ship’s condition will be, because it’s slowly sinking,” said Sloane, vice president of the International Salvage Union. “So boats are designed to flex, but not to stay in that position with a full load for weeks. So it’s not an easy situation.”

International companies are preparing for the effect that channel lockdown will have on supply chains that depend on accurate deliveries of goods. Singapore’s Transport Minister Ong Ye Kung said the country’s port should expect disruptions.

“If that happens, it will be necessary to reduce some inventories,” he said on Facebook.

The backlog of ships could stress European ports and international container supply, already strained by the coronavirus pandemic, according to IHS Markit, a business research group. He said 49 container ships were scheduled to pass through the canal in the week since Ever Given was hosted.

The delay could also result in huge insurance claims by the companies, according to Marcus Baker, Global Director of Marine & Cargo at insurance brokerage Marsh, with a ship like the Ever Given typically covered between $ 100 million and $ 200 million. .

Those trying to evacuate the ship want to avoid complications that could extend the closure of the canal, according to an Egyptian official with the canal authority. The official spoke on condition of anonymity, as he was not authorized to speak to journalists.

Satellite and photos distributed by the channel authority show Ever Given’s bow touching the east wall, while her stern appeared to be lodged against the western wall.

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A team from Boskalis, a Dutch rescue company, is working with the canal authority. with efforts focused on dredging to remove sand and mud from around the port side of the bow.

It was not immediately clear what caused Ever Given to get stuck, although the channel’s authority blamed bad weather. GAC, a global transportation and logistics company, said the ship had experienced a power outage, but did not elaborate.

Evergreen Marine Corp., a major Taiwan-based shipping company that operates the ship, said the Ever Given had been overtaken by high winds when it entered the canal from the Red Sea, but none of its containers had sunk.

Canal authority pilots climb aboard ships navigating the waterway to guide them through it, but the ship’s captain retains ultimate authority over the ship, according to shipping experts.

The Ever Given was involved in an accident in northern Germany in 2019, when it ran into a small ferry moored on the Elbe river in Hamburg. There were no passengers on the ferry at the time and there were no injuries, but it was badly damaged.

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Hamburg prosecutors opened an investigation into the captain and pilot of the Ever Given on suspicion of endangering maritime traffic, but shelved it in 2020 due to lack of evidence, spokeswoman Liddy Oechtering told The Associated Press.

Oechtering was also unable to say what the investigation was that determined the cause of the accident, but officials at the time suggested that strong winds may have pushed the slow freighter onto the ferry.

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