Every day, some 50 ships pass through the Suez Canal, the cut waterway between the Mediterranean and the Red Sea. These are large ships: about 10 percent of world trade by sea is on the Suez. But not Wednesday.
That’s because a ship called the ever given, en route to Rotterdam, Netherlands, from China, is wedged between the sandy banks of the canal. Operated by the Taiwan-based Evergreen Group, the ship is one of the largest in the world: as long as four football fields, as wide as the wingspan of a Boeing 747, and with 200,000 tons of containers stacked on board, so high as a 12-storey building.
It may be there for a while. It’s not easy to untie a giant sea-going vessel, experts say. The Suez Canal Authority, the Egyptian-owned agency that owns and operates the canal, has not yet said when it expects traffic to resume.
Meanwhile, at least 34 ships carrying 379,000 20-foot containers of stuff were unable to pass through the canal in either direction as of Wednesday afternoon, according to logistics software company Project44. “It’s a pretty big deal” for global trade, said Henry Byers, a maritime and global trade analyst at logistics data company FreightWaves.
It’s very unusual, even unheard of, for ships to get stuck in the Suez Canal in this way, said Captain Morgan McManus, who is the captain of the training ship at the State University of New York Maritime College and has sailed at least half of the canal. the channel has been traveled. a dozen times. On the rare occasion that a ship loses power or control in the channel, it is placed on the sandbar, where it is inspected or repaired. In the meantime, other smaller ships may pass.
Not the ever given. BSM, the ship’s technical manager, said on Wednesday that “strong winds” had pushed the ship perpendicular to the banks of the canal, with the towering stacks of containers on board acting as a giant sail. Official reports detailing the causes of the incident are unlikely to be available for weeks, perhaps even a year, but BSM says no one was injured. Photos of the scene show the ever givenIts bow is wedged in the sand as a backhoe – overshadowed by the container ship towering above – tries to excavate it. “It’s like firing a BB gun at a freight train,” says McManus.
The rescue of the ever given will likely contain more engines. Cargo ships have huge ballast tanks, compartments that are filled with water to keep the ships stable. Crews are likely to move water in the bow, says Captain John Konrad, the founder of the shipping publication gCaptain.com. At high tide, powerful tugs will then try to push or pull the ship out of position. At least 10 tugs were involved in the rescue operations on Wednesday.
if That does not work, it is time for taps. An inland crane could pull containers from the 200,000-ton vessel to lighten the load and make maneuvering easier. But photos suggest there may be few places on the bank to safely place a crane or the unloaded containers. “That would be quite a challenge to do,” says McManus. “As they always say, things happen in the worst possible places, and this is pretty bad.”
BSM said late on Wednesday that it had deployed dredging equipment to remove sand and mud from the area ever given. In 2016, a Chinese container ship got stuck in the River Elbe as it approached the port of Hamburg, Germany. It took six days, twelve tugs, two dredgers and a well-timed spring tide to free it.
In the meantime, crews will need to keep an eye out for cracks in the ship’s hull, which can happen when the ship scrapes against rocks or is punctured. Attempts to free the ship can also damage it. “The ship is designed to float in the water, not on land, so different pressure points on different parts of the ship can damage the bow,” says McManus. One of the worst possible outcomes: fuel could leak from the ship into the canal, leading to a lengthy and costly cleanup.
Whatever happens during the rescue attempt, the ever given will have to be towed elsewhere, anchored and inspected by divers before being allowed to continue its journey to Northern Europe. Byers, the analyst, says booking data details some of the ship’s cargo: baby clothes, men’s and boys’ tracksuits, pneumatic tires, electrical appliances and… ginger.
The incident may raise new questions about the container shipping industry, which carries 90 percent of the world’s goods, and its increasingly gigantic ships. Demand for the transportation of goods by sea has soared during the COVID-19 pandemic, with spot prices for empty containers transported from China to Northern Europe soaring by more than 400 percent. In response, shipping companies have loaded giant ships like the ever given with record numbers of containers. Ships got into trouble. The industry lost more cargo at sea in late 2020 and early 2021 than in previous years. “We’re getting to a point where the ships are so big that it becomes a burden,” Byers says.
For now, however, the ever given must be released. “I’m glad I’m not stuck in the channel now,” says McManus.
This story originally appeared on wired.com.