When the container ship Ever Given ran aground in the Suez Canal on Tuesday, its bulk blocking maritime traffic through the global main thoroughfare, the world looked on and wondered how authorities would manage to get the giant off the ground.
Days later, the vessel is still stuck, in the midst of a frantic effort to free it, and he fears the cascading costs of the consequences. Shipping analysts estimated that the traffic jam has already held back nearly $ 10 billion in commerce each day.
Some experts were more hopeful on Saturday after the ship’s rudder was released on Friday night, according to a spokeswoman for the Suez Canal Economic Zone. Although the ship’s rudder had begun to move and the tugs were operating at full force, the ship had not yet been refloated, Hend Fathy Hussein said, the spokeswoman said in a Facebook post.
The chairman of Shoei Kisen, the Japanese company that owns the ship, said his goal was for the ship to be released on Saturday night, according to Reuters.
But on Saturday morning, with a rescue team and canal authorities still fighting to dislodge the leviathan from four soccer fields, global supply chains were one day closer to a full-blown crisis.
Ships full of the world’s goods, including cars, oil, livestock, and laptops, generally flow down the waterway with ease, supplying much of the world as they traverse the fastest route from Asia and the Middle East to Europe and the east coast of the United States. State.
“Look around you: 90 percent of what’s in the room comes from China,” said Alan Murphy, founder of Sea-Intelligence, a maritime data and analytics company. “All of the world’s retail trade is containerized, or 90 percent of it. Then everything is affected. Name any brand and they will stick to one of those containers. “
Alleviating the bottleneck depends on the rescuers’ ability to clean the sand and mud on both ends of the ship and possibly lighten its load enough to help it float again, all while the tugs are trying to push it free. 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 ship’s technical manager, Bernhard Schulte Shipmanagement, said larger tugs had arrived to help, with two more due to arrive on Sunday. Several dredgers were digging around the bow of the ship, and high-capacity pumps will pump water from the ship’s ballast tanks to lighten the ship, the company said.
They will need to clear other vessels from the area, a great coordination effort. And they will need to take into account the possibility that the Ever Given’s shore connection has reorganized 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 salvage operations.
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 inspecting the hull and found no damage. But in most other respects, the Ever Given has 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 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.
Shipping experts said the wind could have been the main factor causing the ship to get stuck in the channel, but suggested that human error may have also 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. “
An armada of tugboats, with engines running with the combined power of tens of thousands of horsepower, have been pushing and pulling the Ever Given for days.
Cranes, which look like toys in the shadow of the huge freighter, have been digging mountains of dirt from the area around where the ship’s bow and stern are squeezed.
But with the ship stretching around 1,300 feet long, roughly the height of the Empire State Building, and weighing about 200,000 metric tons, by Saturday morning they still hadn’t managed to vacate the ship.
Peter Berdowski, CEO of Royal Boskalis Westminster, one of the companies appointed by the owner of Ever Given to help move the ship, told the Dutch news program Nieuwsuur on Wednesday that the operation to free the ship could take “days, even weeks. “
Berdowski, whose company has been involved in the expansion of the Suez Canal, said Ever Given was stuck on both shallow sides of the V-shaped waterway. Fully loaded with 20,000 containers, the ship “is a very heavy beached whale. “, He said.
Authorities first attempted to float the vessel with tugs, a tactic that worked to free the Indian Ocean CSCL, a similarly sized container ship that got stuck in the Elbe River in 2016 near the port of Hamburg, Germany.
Berdowski said the Ever Given, operated by the Evergreen company, was too heavy for tugboats alone and therefore dredging equipment was being used to move the land around 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 on Friday.
While the dredgers worked, a team of eight Dutch salvage experts and naval architects supervising the operation inspected the ship and the seabed and created a computer model to help him work around the ship without damaging it, said Captain 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.
If tugs, dredgers and pumps can’t get the job done, they could be joined by a staggering array of vessels and specialized machines requiring perhaps hundreds of workers: small tankers to pull fuel from the ship, the world’s tallest cranes to pull the ship’s fuel. unload some of their containers one by one and, if there are no cranes 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.
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,” he said. “It’s just a question of, it’s a very big problem.”
Every day that the Ever Given container ship remains stuck in the Suez Canal, the cost of the disruption becomes more significant.
After days of unsuccessful efforts to move the gigantic ship, the shipowners began to reroute ships bound for the Suez Canal around Africa’s Cape of Good Hope, adding weeks to their voyages and burning additional fuel, a cost eventually. assumed by consumers.
When deciding whether to deviate, a shipping company must consider the cost of sitting for days outside the canal versus the additional time of navigating Africa. It is not an easy choice.
“It’s like choosing the queue at the post office, it’s never the right decision,” said Alex Booth, head of research at Kpler, a company that tracks oil shipments.
Seven giant liquefied natural gas carriers appear to have changed course away from the canal, according to Kpler.
Container ships are also changing their plans. HMM, a Korean shipping company, ordered one of its ships heading to Asia from Britain via the canal to go around Africa, according to Noh Ji-hwan, a spokesman for the company.
As workers scramble to unclog the vital business artery, industry leaders are trying to figure out how big the impact could be if the crisis stretches from days to weeks.
Two weeks could empty up to a quarter of the container supply that would normally be in European ports, estimated Christian Roeloffs, CEO of xChange, a shipping consultant in Hamburg, Germany.
“Considering the current shortage of containers, it just increases the response time of the ships,” said Roeloffs.
Three-quarters of all container ships traveling from Asia to Europe arrived at the end of February, according to Sea-Intelligence, a research company in Copenhagen. Even a few days of disturbance in Suez could exacerbate that.
If Suez remains stuck for more than a few days, the stakes will increase dramatically. Ships now trapped in the canal will have difficulty turning around and following other routes, given the narrowness of the canal.
Every time the ships move through the canal again, they are likely to reach busy ports all at once, forcing many to wait before they can unload – an additional delay.
“This could make a really serious crisis worse,” said Alan Murphy, founder of Sea-Intelligence.