Evergreen ship stuck in Suez Canal imperils shipping worldwide

Evergreen ship stuck in Suez Canal imperils shipping worldwide

March 25, 2021

Ismalia, Egypt: A skyscraper-sized cargo ship wedged across Egypt’s Suez Canal further imperilled global shipping on Thursday with at least 150 other vessels needing to pass through the crucial waterway idled waiting for the obstruction to clear, authorities said.

The Ever Given, a Panama-flagged ship belonging to Taiwan-based shipping company Evergreen Marine, carries cargo between Asia and Europe. It ran aground on Tuesday in the narrow, man-made canal dividing continental Africa from the Sinai Peninsula. In the time since, efforts to free the ship using dredgers, digging and the aid of high tides have yet to push the container vessel aside.

On Thursday it was still blocking transit in both directions through one of the world’s busiest shipping channels for goods, oil, gas, grain and other products.

Roughly 30 per cent of the world’s shipping container volume transits through the 193-kilometre Suez Canal daily, and about 12 per cent of total global trade of all goods.

The Ever Given stuck in the Suez Canal. credit: Screengrab/BBCCredit:Screengrab/BBC

The Ever Given, built in 2018 with a length of nearly 400 metres and a width of 59 metres, is among the largest cargo ships in the world. It can carry some 20,000 containers at a time. It previously had been at ports in China before heading towards Rotterdam in the Netherlands.

Egyptian officials and others were due to begin work again to free the vessel on Thursday morning after halting for the night.

So far, dredgers have tried to clear silt around the massive ship. Tug boats nudged the vessel alongside it, trying to gain momentum. From the shore, at least one backhoe dug into the canal’s sandy banks, suggesting the bow of the ship had ploughed into it.

Bernhard Schulte Shipmanagement, the company that manages the Ever Given, said the ship’s 25-member crew were safe and accounted for. The ship had two pilots from Egypt’s canal authority aboard the vessel to guide it when the grounding happened around 7.45am on Tuesday, the company said.

Head of the Suez Canal Authority Ossama Rabei, second right, assesses the stuck ship.Credit:AP

Canal service provider Leth Agencies said at least 150 ships were waiting for the Ever Given to be cleared, including vessels near Port Said on the Mediterranean Sea, Port Suez on the Red Sea and those already stuck in the canal system on Egypt’s Great Bitter Lake.

Cargo ships already behind the Ever Given in canal would be reversed south back to Port Suez to free the channel, Leth Agencies said. Authorities hope to do the same to the Ever Given when they can free it.

Evergreen Marine said in a statement that the Ever Given had been overcome by strong winds as it entered the canal from the Red Sea but none of its containers had sunk.

An Egyptian official, who spoke on condition of anonymity because he wasn’t authorised to brief journalists, similarly blamed a strong wind. Egyptian forecasters said high winds and a sandstorm plagued the area on Tuesday, with winds gusting as much as 50 kilometres per hour.

An initial report suggested the ship suffered a power blackout before the incident, something Bernhard Schulte Shipmanagement denied on Thursday.

“Initial investigations rule out any mechanical or engine failure as a cause of the grounding,” the company said.

Tuesday marked the second major crash involving the Ever Given in recent years. In 2019, the cargo ship ran into a small ferry moored on the Elbe River in the German port city of Hamburg. Authorities at the time blamed strong wind for the collision, which severely damaged the ferry.

The closure could affect oil and gas shipments to Europe from the Middle East, which rely on the canal to avoid sailing around Africa. The price of international benchmark Brent crude stood at over $US63 a barrel Thursday.

Opened in 1869, the Suez Canal provides a crucial link for oil, natural gas and cargo. It also remains one of Egypt’s top foreign currency earners. In 2015, the government of President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi completed a major expansion of the canal, allowing it to accommodate the world’s largest vessels. However, the Ever Given ran aground south of that new portion of the waterway.

The stranding marks just the latest to affect mariners amid the pandemic and trade spats with China. Meanwhile, demands on shipping have increased, along with prices, adding to the pressure on tired sailors and on supply chains.


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