That Stuck Ship Is a Mess, and There's No End in Sight

Removing load from cargo ship wedged across Suez Canal could be risky
By Rob Quinn,  Newser Staff
Posted Mar 26, 2021 11:18 AM CDT
It Could Take 'Days, Weeks' to Unblock Suez Canal
In this photo released by the Suez Canal Authority the Ever Given, sits with its bow stuck into the wall Wednesday, March 24, 2021.   (Suez Canal Authority via AP)

One of the world's biggest cargo ships is blocking one of the world's busiest waterways—and nobody seems sure if when it can be shifted. The Ever Given has been wedged across the canal since Tuesday and a traffic jam of more than 150 ships has built up, disrupting billions of dollars in shipping every day. An attempt to refloat the enormous vessel Thursday was unsuccessful and experts believe it could take days or even weeks to shift it. Suction dredgers are now working to remove sand from around the port side of the bow. More:

  • Impossible to pull. SMIT Salvage is overseeing efforts to free the ship. Peter Berdowski, chairman of sister company Boskalis, says shifting it could take "days or weeks, depending on what you come across" during dredging and digging, CNN reports. He says that with its current weight, the ship will be "impossible to pull" with tug vessels and the company is considering removing fuel, ballast water, or cargo.

  • What could go wrong. The BBC looks at the options for removing the ship and notes that efforts to lighten its load will be risky and complicated. Removing fuel and water might not lighten the vessel enough but removing the 20,000 or so 20-foot containers on board, if they manage to get floating cranes close enough, could unbalance the ship. Sal Mercogliano, an expert in maritime history, says in a worst-case scenario, uneven weight distribution could break the ship in half.
  • The clock is ticking. Maritime salvage expert Capt. Nicholas Sloane says that if the ship is stuck for an extended period, time could run out for the Ever Given structurally. "The longer it takes, the worse the condition of the ship will become, because she’s slowly sagging," Sloane says, per the AP.
  • Ships are already being rerouted. The Guardian reports that around 12% of world trade, especially oil and natural gas, flows through the canal and companies have already started rerouting vessels on longer routes around Africa, through areas known for piracy, because of the blockage. Around 50 ships normally pass through the canal in each direction per day and the backlog means ships arriving now will face days of delays even if it is cleared immediately.
  • How it got stuck. The ship, owned by a Japanese firm and operated by Taiwan-based Evergreen Marine, became stuck during a storm Tuesday. Bernhard Schulte Shipmanagement says an initial investigation indicated strong winds caused it to run aground and there was no engine or power failure, the AP reports.
  • "It just shows you how vulnerable our supply-chain lines are." With billions of dollars in shipping stranded in and around the canal, shipping rates in the region have doubled and companies are warning of major supply chain issues, the Washington Post reports. "It just shows you how vulnerable our supply-chain lines are,” says Guy Platten, secretary general for the International Chamber of Shipping.
  • Previous canal closures. The canal has experienced other closures in the 152 years since it opened, including in 1956, when Egypt's nationalization of the canal triggered the Suez Crisis, the New York Times reports. It was closed for eight years after the 1967 Arab-Israeli war. Fifteen vessels stranded for the duration became known as the "Yellow Fleet" after they became coated in desert sand.
  • Satellite image: This ghostly one shows the predicament. And this "Is that ship still stuck" website has a little fun with the update in live time.
(Read more Suez canal stories.)

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