World

The Vessel Blockage in the Suez Canal

READING TIME ~ 4 MINUTES

Key Questions to Consider:

  1. What is the Suez Canal? 
  2. What happened? 
  3. How was it dislodged?
  4. What were the effects?

1: What is the Suez Canal?

The Suez Canal opened to navigation on November 17, 1869, is a man-made waterway connecting the Mediterranean Sea to the Indian Ocean, making it the shortest travel from Europe to Asia. As opposed to the Cape of Good Hope, the trading route before the construction of the Suez Canal where Europeans had to sail all around Africa’s stormy weather and rough seas to reach Asia. The Suez Canal allowed a shortcut between the Atlantic and the Indian Ocean, cutting travel times and, as a result, proving to be much more economically efficient. Stretching 120 miles from Port Said in the North to Suez in the south, the Suez Canal is the longest canal, connecting bodies of water at differing altitudes and is a vital waterway for international trade. 

Map showing how long alternative routes around the Suez Canal would take (BBC)

2: What Happened?

On March 23, 2021, the Ever Given, a 1,300 foot, 220,000 ton, Japanese container vessel became lodged in the Suez Canal. Built by the shipping company Evergreen Marine in 2018, the Ever Given can carry as many as 20,000 20-foot-long shipping containers. For the past several decades, the push for increasingly larger ships has been prevalent, with most companies preferring abnormally large vessels to transport more resources in one trip. Although these gargantuan vessels can transport thousands of tons of shipping material, there is one main downside for their size: maneuverability. Due to the excessively large tenacity of the Ever Given, the captain must precisely calculate every turn beforehand to ensure the safe delivery of the expensive materials on board.

Weather also plays an important role in a successful voyage. Hours before the blockage, a powerful sandstorm caused 31 mph winds and hazy visibility, resulting in the Ever Given getting stuck, blocking other ships from entering and leaving the Suez Canal. Salvage teams worked for days to dislodge the enormous vessel by using several methods such as utilizing tugboats and unloading the ship’s cargo; however, these methods alone proved to be extremely difficult to implement thanks to the monstrous size of the vessel. Therefore, the salvage teams utilized a range of intricate methods to unlodge the Ever Given. 

The Ever Green when stuck in the Suez Canal (Getty Images)

3: How was it dislodged?

The salvage teams used a strategy composed of 5 different, but interwoven plans to quickly and efficiently remove the Ever Given from the Suez Canal so that daily operation can proceed.

Dredgers: A dredger is a marine vessel with a device to remove the sediment of a sea bed. By using dredgers, the salvage teams removed sand from underneath the bow of the Ever Given, freeing up some room underneath the ship to turn a little. Two main dredgers were involved in this step: the 10th of Ramadan and the Mashhour, which is reported as the most powerful cutter suction dredger in the world. 

Tugboats: Next, small fleets of tugboats pushed both sides of the Ever Given away from the walls of the Suez Canal.

On-Ground Equipment: On-ground equipment, such as diggers, removed the sediment from the sides of the Suez Canal to free up some room for more tugboats.  

Lightening Load: Smaller ships removed some of the cargo and fuel from the Ever Given to lighten its load and float higher. 

High Tides: On March 28th, a full moon beamed on the thousands of salvagers attempting to unlodge the Ever Given, resulting in higher tides and making removal easier. 

Thanks to the hard work of the salvagers, crews managed to wrench the Ever Given free on March 29th, 2021, allowing the hundreds of vessels waiting on both sides of the canal to resume their voyage.

An excavator, one of the on-ground equipment machines, removes sediment blocking the large boat (Shutterstock)

4: What were the effects?

The shipping industry has already seen several shortages due to the Covid-19 pandemic, and the Suez Canal blockage will most definitely exacerbate the situation. During the situation, Charlotte Cook, head trade analyst at Vessels Value, said more than 300 ships were waiting in and around the Suez Canal in addition to 130 vessels en route. The Suez Canal, which is said to handle about 10 percent of global maritime commercial traffic, is one of the most important canals in the world, so shipping analysts estimate that the blockage held up nearly $10 billion in trade every day.

Additionally, during the blockage, many companies decided to use the Cape Route (around the Southern tip of Africa), adding weeks of extra delivery time. Although experts say determining the exact costs of the altercation may take months, the time and money used to unclog the Suez Canal are terrible for all companies: large and small. However, the teamwork and efficiency of the salvagers in this situation goes to show that even with numerous calamities, humans have the power to uplift one another, and that no matter the severity of the problem, anything can be achieved by working together. 


TL;DR

  • The Suez Canal is a man-made waterway connecting the Mediterranean Sea to the Indian Ocean, making it the shortest travel from Europe to Asia. Stretching 120 miles from Port Said in the North to Suez in the south, the Suez Canal is the longest canal, connecting bodies of water at different altitudes and is a vital waterway for international trade. 
  • On March 23, 2021, the Ever Given, a 1,300 foot, 220,000 ton, Japanese container vessel became lodged in the Suez Canal due to a sandstorm that caused 31 mph winds and minimal visibility, and because of the ship’s enormous size, salvage efforts were difficult.
  • The salvage teams used dredgers to remove sand from underneath the bow of the Ever Given, freeing up some room underneath the ship to turn a little, tugboats to help maneuver the Ever Given, and on-ground equipment to remove sediment on land. Lightening the load and high tides also helped the Ever Given gain maneuverability, and on March 29th, 2021, the vessel finally became dislodged.
  • The Suez Canal is said to handle 10 percent of the global maritime commercial traffic, so when the Ever Given became stuck in the canal, shipping analysts estimate that it will result in the loss of nearly $10 billion in trade every day. 

Sources:

https://www.nytimes.com/2021/03/25/world/middleeast/suez-canal-container-ship.html

https://www.popularmechanics.com/technology/infrastructure/a35925244/suez-canal-blocked-ever-given-ship-stuck/

https://www.history.com/topics/africa/suez-canal

https://www.britannica.com/topic/Suez-Canal

https://www.usatoday.com/in-depth/graphics/2021/03/29/ever-given-refloated-and-freed-how-did-they-get-the-ship-out-of-the-suez-canal/7043678002/

https://www.bbc.com/news/56523659

https://www.space.com/16830-full-moon-calendar.html

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