Suez Canal Crisis 2021- the Worst Maritime Shipping Mishap

4 mins read  Sealuminati TeamMay 11, 2021
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The Suez Crisis 2021, EVER GIVEN- EVERGREEN Chapter

The shipping world halted when a gigantic 400 meter (1300 feet), 2 lakh tonne cargo ship jammed one of the world’s busiest trade routes, the Suez Canal waterway for almost a week. But why was it declared a Global crisis? well, the answer could be, because it prickled the spines of the global supply chain. A Taiwanese transport company EVERGREEN ship, MV EVER GIVEN wedged the southern section of the120 miles long canal diagonally. Probably a case, that not all diagonals lead you to the shortest paths, this one made the ships cover the cape of good hopes, ironically with no hopes of recovery soon.

How Suez Canal is an asset to Maritime Shipping?

To have a clearer picture of the ruckus MV EVER GIVEN brought catastrophic changes to the global trade by running aground on 23 March 2021, at 07:40 EGY (05:40 UTC), let us know how a man-made marvel connecting the Mediterranean Sea and the Red Sea acts as the backbone to the shipping industry.

  1. About 12% of the global trade and 8% of liquefied natural gas occur through the Suez Canal.
  2. As per Lloyd’s register, goods worth $9.6 billion pass through the canal each day.
  3. On an average day, 50 ships make their way through the Suez Canal carrying approximately 1.2 million tons of cargo. 2020 witnessed 18,500 ships traversing through the canal, with an average of 51.5 ships per day.
  4. Acts as national pride and crucial revenue for Egypt.
  5. An average of 3 million tonnes of cargo passes through this waterway in an hour.
  6. Lloyd mentions that about 1.9 million barrels of oil a day go through the canal.

However, the above big numbers are since it produces a significantly efficient and the shortest trade route between Europe and Asia. When we analyze the two different alternative trade routes from Port of Rotterdam to Kaohsiung, Taiwan, we get the following figures:

  1. Trade route through Suez Canal- 10000 nautical miles (around 18,520 Km)
  2. Trade route around Cape of Good Hope- 13500 nautical miles (around 25,002 Km)

This difference of 7000 kilometres is surely a figure high enough to impact the efficiency and the time frame of the global supply chain drastically. Many ships which re-routed their sails, to go around the cape of good hopes, found themselves sailing for an extra 1 week with an increasingly high fuel cost. Guess what? If they would have waited for the EVER GIVEN to re-float, which took the same week to dislodge, the extra fuel cost would have been never accounted for. Never mind! I hope the higher authorities of those ships don’t read this one or the crew is in real trouble.

The world’s (shipping) center of the discussion revolved around a ship longer than Eiffel Tower MV EVER GIVEN when it blocked one of the world’s most critical shipping arteries. There were a lot of vague opinions and solutions doing rounds on social media. As per the Brand Mentions reports, a brand monitoring firm; there were close to 150,000 interactions on #SuezBLOCKED on Twitter and more than 135,000 reshares.

DAMN! EVER GIVEN is no less than a celebrity now.

How did the EVER GIVEN Block the Suez Canal?

However, it was made clear from the shipowners that no human error was to be held responsible but it was a ‘gust of wind’ to be declared accountable for the incident. The ship while traveling through the Suez on 23 March, at 07:40 EGY (05:40 UTC) was caught in the strong winds approaching with a speed of 40 knots (74 km/h; 46 mph), which thereafter resulted in the ‘loss of the ability to steer the ship’, also reports claims that the containers on board aided the wind to create this mishap.

But the Suez Canal Authority opinionated that it was not only the gust of wind to be held responsible for the stranded ship.

How did the Suez Canal Authority respond to the EVERGREEN crisis?

Two tugs were deployed in efforts to re-float the ship soon after the mishap. Further, more rescue and tug units were pushed at the spot to ease the bottleneck. Moreover, Egypt also reopened the older channel to restrict the situation from worsening. Vessels carrying cattle to cargoes started piling up on both sides of the giant box ships, no wonder prices of various things upsurged in the destinations the ships were expected to reach.

Blunt solutions were also stocking up, some appealed calling Iron man, some demanded flying ship, and some expected Lord Hanuman to do the needful, but sadly none of them worked except a team of dredgers and a flotilla of tug boats. Why did people miss lord Krishna? he lifted ‘Goverdhan parvat‘ on his fingertip, this might have required two fingers. And also where is AQUAMAN !!

The salvage team from Dutch firm Smit Salvage was engaged immediately to pull the aground ship which ran deep inside the sandy bank. The time pressure to dislodge the ship from the sandy shoreline was evident and unprecedented as daily global trade worth $10 billion was held up by the blockage and cost around $400million an hour, as stated by Lloyd’s list. 

By 25th March, eight tug boats were at the spot to ease the global supply chain crisis. This number spiked to 14 on the 27th of March to take advantage of the day’s high tide. In the due course, many firms estimated the operation to be more than a fortnight, including U.S. Navy extended support while some put in technical advisories and experts at the work.

In the efforts to re-float the ship, salvage teams shoveled 30,000 cubic meters (1 million cubic feet) of sand and even removed the part of the canal wall. However, the saga to dislodge the stuck ship almost went a week long.

The Mashhour- the famous Godfather and Saviour to Suez Canal

After tiring efforts by the salvage team equipped with dredgers and tug boats, it was reported by SCA at the dawn of Monday on 29th March that the team succeeded in partially dislodging the vessel. The vessel was finally freed and moving again as of 15:05 local time, and was towed to the Great Bitter Lake for inspection. The whole operation had the two dredgers namely the 10th of Ramadan and the Mashhour (Okay! Mashhour is mash-hoor( famous) now), both owned by the Suez Canal Authority as the backbone. The Mashhour is reported to be the largest and most powerful cutter suction dredger in the world. It was used to widen and deepen sections of the Suez Canal in previous operations.

“Today, the Egyptians have succeeded in ending the crisis of the delinquent ship in the Suez Canal despite the tremendous technical complexity that surrounded this process from every side,” Egyptian President Abdel Fattah El-Sisi said Monday in a tweet.
In the video posted by Anas Alhajji, the crew members of Mashhour celebrated their success and chanted, “Mashhour is number 1.”

“The Egyptian Team of the Tug boat Mashhour (pronounced mash- hoor) celebrates the success of freeing the #EverGiven after it got stuck in the Suez Canal. They are chanting: Mashhour is number 1,” Anas Alhajji said in the caption of the post.
"We were enormously helped by the strong tides, the forces of nature that push hard, even harder than the two tugboats can pull," Peter Berdowski, Chief Executive Officer of Boskalis Westminster, the parent company of the salvage team told Dutch radio. Looking at the efforts made by the salvage team, torrents of comments on these kinds of posts demanded a documentary on the same to praise the team and crew members of tugboats for the operation.

By the time, #SUEZUnblocked around 420 ships carrying oil to livestock were waiting, approximately 200 in the Red Sea, under 200 in the Mediterranean Sea; and around 50 in the Bitter Lakes. Moreover, Osama Rabei on 29th March 2021, the head of the Suez Canal Authority, said that 113 out of 420 vessels would cross the canal by Tuesday (30th March 2021) morning.

Looking at the traffic Charlotte Cook, the head trade analyst at Vessels Value commented "This means that despite a successful operation to move the grounded vessel, we could still be looking at a possible five- to seven-day wait for the build-up to clear.” While SCA announced that it would take 2-3 days to resume normal transit.

The aftermath of the Suez Canal Crisis

Though the Suez Crisis has been recovered, the impact of the ship blocking the Suez Canal will be felt for months to come, Captain Andrew Kinsey, Senior Marine Risk Manager at Allianz announced. “With these vessels, they're carrying cargo, and they're also carrying empty boxes on a backhaul to redistribute the global supply of containers," Kinsey, said on CNBC's "The News with Shepard Smith.". Being aware of the outcomes of this temporary closure, stakeholders should keep patience as everyone is concerned about their crew and cargo, claims IMO Secretary-General, Kitack Lim. Further IMO will look into the investigation reports and entertain appropriate recommendations if any. Even though after investigating it was found that only the bow of the ship was damaged probably because of the ship running aground, and no other internal damage was proclaimed. Authorities still believe that some hands are yet to be disclosed.

According to TOI, Indian crew even after escaping the Suez mishap can now get stuck in Egypt. Charges of disrupting trade and ship grounding are filed. Indian crew to be scapegoat, claims sources. They are not alone, help in any manner will be provided, claims Serang. Authority reports suggest that the casualty caused $1 billion in economic damage. And a $100 million loss is faced by EVER GIVEN's insurer. Suez canal is running fine but commercial dispute is still expected to last a year. Several times in Egypt detained vessels crew faced house arrest, claims ITW. Chief mate Aisha of feeder Aman has been stuck in Suez since 2017, as his passport is confiscated. Not only, Aisha, Kenan Mete is also designated as the vessel's "legal guard", and is stuck in Egypt. ITW is attempting to win freedom in all cases.

Egypt’s first female ship captain, Marwa Elselehdar was also falsely accused of the Suez mishap, even though she was working nearly 100 miles away from the incident at the Mediterranean port city of Alexandria.

Experts are of opinion that the Suez situation would compound issues for a supply chain that is already under pressure from the pandemic and a surge in buying. “If you get a bump in one place, that is going to percolate through the system,” said Mr. Sharat Ganapati, an economics professor at Georgetown University. “It is going to take a while to get things un-gummed up.”, he further added. Moreover, Maersk, the world's biggest shipping company, said that the blockage by the giant container ship Ever Given has caused shipping backlogs that could take months to unravel.

Though the event has introduced a bubble in the supply chain that would last in months yet it has aptly brought out the vitality seafarers possess in the global supply chain and trade. This was surely great learning to maritime industry disguised as #SuezCrisis.

Seeking inspiration from Anne Frank’s quote

“What is done cannot be undone, but at least one can keep it from happening again.”, we shall move ahead with a more tight-knit supply chain and technical preparedness for anything by our side.

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