Suez Canal ship could be stuck for weeks, rescue chief admits

Grounded Suez Canal mega-ship could be stuck for WEEKS, rescue team chief admits as number of vessels caught in world’s most expensive traffic jam hits 150

  • Cargo ship Ever Given, one of the world’s largest, remains wedged in the Suez Canal as rescue efforts resume 
  • Dutch expert brought in to help has warned operation could take ‘weeks’ and might involve taking cargo off 
  • Meanwhile costs for ship’s owners and insurers mount, with experts predicting a final bill totalling millions 
  • There are now 150 ships stuck at either end of the canal whose owners may be able to file a claim, while insurers may also be liable for cost of closing the canal, the rescue operation, and any damage caused
  • Ship’s Japanese owners Shoei Kisen KK apologised today, saying they are ‘extremely sorry’ for causing ‘worry’

A giant cargo ship blocking the Suez Canal could be stuck for weeks, an expert brought in to help with the rescue has admitted, as the number of vessels backed up behind the stricken ship hit 150.

Peter Berdowski, CEO of Dutch company Boskalis which has been tasked with assisting the rescue, compared the ship to ‘an enormous beached whale’ as he warned workers might have to start offloading cargo in order to reduce its weight and get it floating again.

‘We can’t exclude it might take weeks, depending on the situation,’ he told Dutch media. ‘It’s an enormous weight on the sand. We might have to work with a combination of reducing the weight by removing containers, oil and water from the ship, tug boats and dredging of sand.’

He spoke as canal workers, who had paused work overnight during low tide, this morning restarted efforts to free the 1,312ft-long, 175ft-wide, 200,000-ton MV Ever Given from where it has lodged diagonally across the waterway.

Every day the ship remains lodged, around 10 per cent of global sea trade and 30 per cent of container ship traffic is unable to move as it should, blocking vital supplies of food, fuel and medicines from reaching their destinations.

As the backlog builds, the costs for Ever Given’s owners – Japanese firm Shoei Kisen KK – and their insurers will mount in what could turn out to be the world’s most expensive traffic jam.

Industry experts warned the bill will likely total millions of dollars, even assuming the vessel can be moved quickly.

Insurers could find themselves on the hook for costs incurred by shipping firms whose routes are delayed, plus from Egyptian authorities which make almost $6billion each year charging companies for use of the canal.

The costs of the rescue operation will also fall on insurers, along with any damage the ship sustains while it is being salvaged, analysts said. 

Attempting to head-off criticism, Shoei Kisen issued an apology today – saying they are ‘extremely sorry’ for the ‘tremendous worry’ that the accident has caused for shipping firms and people who rely on their deliveries. 

Efforts to free one of the world’s largest container ships which became lodged in the Suez Canal on Tuesday have resumed this morning, as experts warn it could take weeks to refloat the stranded vessel 

Rescuers are currently using diggers to try to free the bow of the ship which has become lodged in the eastern canal wall while dredgers and tugboats attempt to free the stern end, which is wedged against the western edge (top right). But experts warn that might not be enough, and that they may have to remove cargo to lessen her weight 

Every day the canal is blocked means 10 per cent of oceangoing trade cannot move as it should, with 50 ships being added to the massive traffic jam building up around the canal (pictured)

 The Ever Given is aground with its bow lodged in the eastern wall of the canal. Workers are attempting to dig the bow free while tugboats try to shove it back into the waterway

Shipping data shows the extent of the traffic jam building up which is straddling two continents and currently involves some 150 ships (position of the Ever Given is marked with a white circle)

The firm said it is cooperating with its technical management company and the local authorities to get the ship afloat, but ‘the operation is extremely difficult.’ 

‘It is potentially the world’s biggest ever container ship disaster without a ship going bang,’ one shipping lawyer, who declined to be named, said. 

If the ship cannot be easily freed, then companies will have no choice but to sail their cargo around the Horn of Africa – a route which adds 14 days and 5,000 nautical miles to the journey. 

Meanwhile Nick Sloane, a salvage master who helped refloat the Costa Concordia cruise ship after it ran aground off the coast of Italy, said rescuers’ best chance of moving the vessel will come on Monday when tides will be at their highest point.

If that window is missed then it will take another two weeks for the opportunity to present itself again, he told Bloomberg. ‘This is definitely not a quick refloat operation,’ he added. 

It is thought the accident happened after the ship’s captain and two Egyptian pilots sent on board to help guide the vessel became blinded during a sandstorm that sent the vessel off course, and cause it to get wedged around 7.45am on Tuesday. 

Bernhard Schulte Shipmanagement, the company that manages the Ever Given, said the ship’s 25-member crew were safe and accounted for after the accident. 

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 the canal will 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 Corp, a major Taiwan-based shipping company that operates the ship, said in a statement that the Ever Given had been overcome by strong winds as it entered the canal from the Red Sea. None of its containers had sunk.

An Egyptian official, who spoke to The Associated Press on condition of anonymity because he was not authorised to brief journalists, similarly blamed a strong wind. 

The MV Ever Given – a 1,312ft long, 175ft wide, 200,000 ton cargo ship owned by shipping firm Evergreen – has drifted sideways and become stuck across the width of the Suez Canal, blocking one of the world’s busiest shipping lanes

Satellite images show the vessel lodged in the canal. Because the boat is longer than the waterway is wide, options for moving it are limited 

Workers are using diggers and heavy machinery to try and dig away the wall of the canal in the hopes of refloating the vessel, meaning its steering should become operational again

Egyptian forecasters said high winds and a sandstorm plagued the area on Tuesday, with winds gusting as high as 30 miles 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 Mideast, which rely on the canal to avoid sailing around Africa. The price of international benchmark Brent crude stood at more than 63 dollars a barrel on Thursday.

The Ever Given, built in 2018 with a length of nearly 400 meters, or a quarter of a mile, and a width of 193 feet, 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 toward Rotterdam in the Netherlands.

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-Sissi 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 canal.

This stranding marks just the latest setback to affect mariners amid the Covid crisis, with hundreds of thousands of people having been stuck aboard vessels due to the pandemic. 

The Suez canal, which is around 120 miles long links the Persian Gulf and the Mediterranean and is the shortest shipping route between the Atlantic and the Indian Ocean. 

Before the canal, shipping from Europe either had to go overland or risk going around Cape Horn and the South Atlantic.  

In April 1859, construction of the canal officially begins, much of the work financed by France. 

It was opened for navigation on November 17, 1869 for vessels from all countries, although the British government later wanted to have an armed force in the area to protect shipping interests having picked up a 44 per cent stake in the canal in 1875. 

The Suez Canal links the Red Sea and the Mediterranean providing a short cut from the Indian Ocean to the Atlantic 

From then, while nominally owned by Egypt, the canal was run by Britain and France until its until its nationalisation in 1956 . 

The nationalisation by Nasser saw Britain and France launched an abortive and humiliating bid to recapture the vital waterway. 

The canal was shut briefly following the attempted invasion. 

However, in 1967 the canal was shut for eight years following the Six Day war with Israel. 

Due to the instability in the region, the canal remained closed until 1975 – its longest ever closure, as the waterway had been mined and some vessels had been sunk in the main channel.  

The Suez Canal is actually the first canal that directly links the Mediterranean Sea to the Red Sea.

In 2015 a new section of the canal opened, allowing vessels to traverse the waterway in both directions at the same time. 

Future plans will see the two-lane system extended across the entire network- doubling current capacity of the canal.  

 The largest cargo vessels pay more than £180,000 in tolls to traverse the canal. 

On average about 40-50 cargo vessels use the canal on a daily basis in a trip that takes around 11 hours, as speed along the waterway is limited to about 9kts to prevent the banks of the canal getting washed away. 

Along the canal there are emergency mooring slots so vessels can pull over if they are suffering a mechanical issue.  

When the canal first opened, the channel was approximately 26 feet deep and 72 feet wide at the bottom. The surface was between 200 and 300 feet wide to allow ships to pass. 

By the 1960s, dredging of the canal increased the depth to 40 feet and widened the waterway to allow larger vessels.   

Now, the minimum depth of the canal is 66feet, though this is been increased to 72 feet – allowing even larger vessels.  

What was the Suez Crisis 

The 1956 Suez Crisis was prompted by Egyptian president Gamal Abdel Nasser who decided to nationalise the Suez Canal, which had been controlled for around a century by France and Britain. 

Israel used the instability to invade Egypt and move towards the strategically important canal. 

Britain and France sent troops to recapture the canal – claiming they wanted to return stability to the region – but in reality they wanted to force the collapse of Nasser’s government and regain strategic control of the waterway. 

The humiliation of the Suez crisis prompted Prime Minister Anthony Eden, pictured here in 1955 to resign after Britain was forced to withdraw from Egypt having lost the support of the United States

However, the United States refused to back Britain and France’s action, forcing them to withdraw after the Egyptians were backed by the Soviet Union. 

America threatened economic sanctions against Britain, France and Israel, forcing their withdrawal and their replacement by UN peacekeepers. 

The humiliation prompted the resignation of British Prime Minister Anthony Eden  

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