Can a single ship disrupt global trade?

The vessel the size of four football fields, with a length of nearly 400 metres and a width of 59 metres, is near about the maximum size of vessels allowed into this Canal. 

by Victor Cherubim

A cargo container vessel mv.”Ever Given” with its “bulbous bow” stuck in the sand-bar at the port side of the narrow Suez Canal near the beginning of the Sinai Peninsula blocking all passage of ships navigating this international waterway since 07.45 hours local time on Tuesday 23 March 2021, is more than a shipping disaster. 

It has put global shipping already strained by the pandemic further in dire strait,as at least 150 or more vessels needing to pass through this crucial waterway in the next week, having to idle and waiting for the obstruction to clear. 

The vessel the size of four football fields, with a length of nearly 400 metres and a width of 59 metres, is near about the maximum size of vessels allowed into this Canal. We are told due to high winds the vessel turned sideways in the Canal in its route northwards to the Mediterranean and bound for Rotterdam. 

We are also told that any vessel this size has to be maneuvered by two Canal Pilots from the Egyptian Canal Authority on board, but the Captain of the vessel retains ultimate authority for its navigation. 

The bow (front end) of the vessel “Ever Given” touched the eastern wall while its stern (back end) seemed nearly lodged against its western wall of the Canal, near the city of Suez, in an almost incredible and nightmare manner. 

Efforts over the last few days to free the ship using dredgers digging the silt from the bank of the Canal and the aid of tugs assisted by high tides, to push the stranded vessel into the main artery of the Canal, have all seem to have failed. 

The Canal is blocked some 6 kilometres north of the southern mouth of the Suez Canal near the City of Suez.

The history of the Container vessel  

mv.”Ever Given” owned by the Japanese owners, Shoei Kissen KK, flying the Panamian flag was built in 2018, can carry up to 20,000 containers (TEU’s) at a time and on this voyage had        boxes on board. 

The Japanese owners have apologised for this incident, which is maintained as an accident or “Act of God”. But the question in the minds of Average Adjusters and Insurance Brokers, and particularly, according to Marcus Baker, of Marine and Cargo broker, Marsh  is that this one accident could result in heavy insurance claims. It is estimated to cover between US$100 and $200 million.

We also are told that this is not the first time that the same vessel was involved in an accident. In early 2019 this Container vessel ran into a small ferry moored in the Elbe river in the Port of Hamburg, Germany, which caused serious damage to the boat, but the claim was abandoned for lack of evidence.

What of the outcome now? 

An Egyptian official has stated that the vessel will “somehow” be freed over this weekend “27 /28 March 2021” using the prevailing high tides expected and dredging the bow of the vessel from the bank. 

Some cautious shipping sources/observers cannot exclude it might take at least a week or more depending on the situation according to Reuters.

Should this happen shipping could potentially start rerouting around the Cape,the southern tip of South Africa which will add thousands of miles and about an extra week of journey time. 

That a single ship can disrupt global trade affecting supply chains of the entire world is beyond belief and a calamity that could have not been envisaged.

Pessimists have maintained that there is “no way” the Egyptians are going to pull it off with tugs thus freeing the vessel. 

Thus it is highly likely that cargo Containers on board may have to be offloaded from the vessel in an effort to release the stuck vessel in the Canal.

What we might have to endure is that Egypt will enforce strict guidelines for the “max size” vessels that will be allowed to traverse this waterway in the not too distant future. 

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