$6bn and counting: Suez snarl-up stretches into third day with warning salvage could take weeks

Date: Thursday, March 25, 2021
Source: Splash 247

High tide passed Wednesday evening and the giant 20,388 teu Ever Given still has not moved. Twisted starboard, its 399 m hull may be connecting continents, but at the same time it is halting global trade, with more than 140 ships now delayed and garnering more mainstream press for shipping than anything else has for months.

Early indications from the Suez Canal Authority that the giant ship would be shifted within two days have now proven to be wide of the mark, with the CEO of the parent of the Dutch salvage firm overseeing the operation warning the vessel could be stuck for weeks.

The International Chamber of Shipping estimates that $3bn worth of cargoes pass through the 152-year-old waterway a day.

The Ever Given, which ship agency GAC said lost power Tuesday morning, ploughing into a bank of the canal, remains wedged on one of the most important shipping arteries in the world despite many tugs, diggers and dredgers being deployed to refloat it.

A team of eight from SMIT Salvage flew into Egypt this morning and are inspecting the ship and the surrounding canal area.

Peter Berdowski, the CEO of SMIT’s parent, Royal Boskalis Westminster, was interviewed on Dutch state TV last night. He told Nieuwsuur, a Dutch current affairs television program, “The more secure the ship is, the longer an operation will take. It can take days to weeks.”

He also pointed out that bringing in all the necessary equipment needed for the refloating operation could take time.

“This is not an Amsterdam-Rhine Canal where you have the same depth over the entire width. You are dealing with an avenue in the middle that is up to 25 meters deep, but soon after that it goes to 15 meters, to 11 meters, and then even less to the ends. The ship is 15.7 meters deep. Especially at the front the ship is a meter on the slope,” Berdowski told Nieuwsuur, describing the Ever Given’s current predicament as being akin to a very heavy whale on a beach.

As well as removing ballast water and fuel, the SMIT team will assess whether containers will need to be offloaded from the ship, a potentially time-consuming process.

“In our view the situation now looks unlikely to be heading for a swift resolution given that it is not a simple grounding,” analysts at Braemar ACM Shipbroking stated in an update to clients today.

Under normal circumstances an average of 52 vessels of all types goes through the Suez Canal per day.

According to the World Shipping Council, the maximum throughput of the canal is 106 vessels per day so if the waterway was shut for one day, the resultant queue could be cleared within the first opening day using the daily surplus capacity. If it was closed for two days, it would then take two additional days after re-opening to also clear the queue given that more vessels will arrive for normal transits every day.

Leth Agencies, a local port agent, tallied 71 vessels waiting at Suez Anchorage awaiting northbound transit as of midnight last night and a further 79 vessels awaiting southbound transit of which 34 are anchored at Great Bitter Lake and 45 at Port Said Outer Anchorage.

Ships behind the Ever Given in the canal are being reversed south back to Port Suez to free the channel. Authorities hope to do the same to the Ever Given when they can free it.

The huge vessel is operated by Evergreen from Taiwan and owned by Japan’s Shoei Kisen who today apologised for the “tremendous worry” that the accident has caused to the other vessels and their involved parties.

Shoei Kisen conceded the operation to move the ship will be “extremely difficult”.

The ship’s manager, Bernhard Schulte Shipmanagement, insists the accident happened because of high winds, something backed up by vessel tracking of the accident (see below) which shows how the ships in the convoy behind the Ever Given moved erratically too, and were nearly involved in a collision.

The 2018-built Ever Given was involved in a collision two years ago, smashing into a ferry in Hamburg.


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