Monday, March 29, 2021

She's Off! The Suez Canal Reopens to Shipping as Stranded Container Vessel Under Way Again

End to One of the Most Costly Events in the Maritime Calendar
Shipping News Feature

EGYPT – In a way the recent stranding of the 20,000 TEU container ship Ever Given compares with the recent trials and tribulations offered by the Covid-19 pandemic. Now the vessel is floating free once more, after blocking the Suez Canal completely for the best part of a week, it is time to consider how to avoid such a situation in the future.

Whereas Evergreen Marine, the vessel’s owners hail from Taiwan, a country which dealt with the medical threat possibly more efficiently than any other state in the world, it seems a gust of wind managed to cripple a major shipping thoroughfare and hold up billions of dollars of freight by delaying hundreds of merchant vessels attempting to transit between the Red Sea and the Mediterranean.

The problem illustrated that the Canal is not some tidy, concrete trough but is, at its simplest points, a scoop in the sand which is probably not wide enough for the world’s largest vessels when disaster strikes.

Once the problem occurred and the ship grounded every effort was made to shift her, fourteen of the world’s strongest tugs tried prying her loose, Evergreen employed salvage operator Smit to take an overview and plan best how to free her. The decision was made to clear sand and mud around the ship’s bow and try to free the vessel at high tide, and those on the ground knew this would take 2 or 3 days.

Having removed considerably more than 20,000 tons of sand and mud, the dredging operation underway succeeded in loosening the Ever Given’s bow within the bank of the Canal and the ship’s stern cleared from the sand bank. The rudder and propeller of the vessel were fully functional and able to provide additional support to the tugs assigned to move her.

At 15:00 hours local time today (29 March) the ship finally floated free, and assisted by the tugs to hasten her passage (and presumably avoid an embarrassing reoccurrence) sailed away to be repositioned in the Canal’s Great Bitter Lake for an inspection of her seaworthiness. The outcome of that inspection will determine whether the ship can resume its scheduled service. Once the inspection is finalised, decisions will be made regarding arrangements for cargo currently on board.

Evergreen Marine offered a statement saying how grateful the corporation is to the Suez Canal Authority and all the concerned parties for their assistance and support through what has been a difficult and unfortunate situation. The company also thanked the crew who it says remained steadfast in their posts, as well as the salvage experts and dredging team for their professionalism and relentless efforts over the past six days toward securing the successful outcome.

The Canal will remain open 24 hours a day while the backlog of ships is cleared, something which may take as much as a week with a multitude of vessels missing their original time slots in port. Despite the lurid claims of billions of dollars of losses in the main press doubtless little will actually be noticed by the consumers at the end of the line.

Now of course there will be the small matter of a full enquiry as, without any doubt, this type of problem is likely to reoccur if operational methods are not adjusted to avoid another such incident.

Photo: The Ever Given, accompanied by tugs, gets under way to the sound of her flotilla’s foghorns, sounded in jubilation. Image courtesy of Al Gerati.