David versus Goliath at the Suez Canal

Last Tuesday (23MAR21), the mega containership “Ever Given” got stuck in the Suez Canal, blocking all maritime traffic traversing the waterway in either direction. As this CFG issue goes
online, the vessel is still lodged there, despite many attempts to free it. Meanwhile, the topic has gone around the world like wildfire, spread by social media, provoking humorous, thoughtful,
but also sarcastic reactions. The economic consequences of the maritime accident, however, are far from funny.

Dredger at work! Attempting to dig the bow of the "Ever Given" out of the eastern bank of the channel – Photo: dpa
Dredger at work! Attempting to dig the bow of the “Ever Given” out of the eastern bank of the channel – Photo: dpa

Will Biblical history be repeated?
The picture is very telling: The huge bow of the “Ever Given” has bored into the bank. In front of it is a tiny digger, attempting to shovel the massive ship free. A bizarre scene that prompted
the British newspaper The Guardian, inspired by the Bible, to speak of “The David and Goliath story of our times.”
As is well known: in the Old Testament, David defeated his giant adversary. Whether the story will end similarly at the Suez Canal is completely open. Meanwhile, disaster specialists like
Nicholas Sloane of Sloane Marine Ltd. do not exclude a worst-case scenario which envisages the Suez Canal being impassable for weeks or even months, should the 200,000-ton megaship with a draught
of 15.5 meters break apart under its own weight. A possibility that could arise through well-intended but risky and unprofessional salvage operations.

Herculean task to get the ship afloat again
The channel is a key maritime route which sees 12% of the world’s trade pass through. Following the accident, more than 250 ships became jammed at the entrances to the channel, with their number
increasing every hour. Experts speak of a “Herculean task” to get the 400 m long and 60 m wide container ship afloat again. Towing it free from its wedged position is unlikely to work, they say,
because parts of the hull are stuck. The people on site need large dredgers to move the sand away that has piled up around the ship’s hull in the fairway of the channel.
At the same time, keeping a constant eye on the ship’s stability while pumping out ballast water and fuel, is paramount preventing it from tipping over.
Meanwhile, the Suez Canal Authority indicated that attempts to free the ship soon might be successful. But if not, thousands of animals transported on 13 Romanian ships unable to continue their
journey are at high risk, among them 130,000 sheep. “We are sitting in front of a major tragedy if the channel is not released in the next 24 hours because there are vessels carrying
livestock that will run out of food and water in the next two days,”
the EU director of NGO Animals International, Gabriel Paun, warned.

One grounded vessel – many consequences
Even though it is currently unclear how the rescue operations will end, the blockade of the Suez Canal is already impacting world trade. The automotive and mechanical engineering industries, for
example, are missing important components for their production lines. Fixed delivery times for computers, laptops, TV sets, and cell phones are not being met, and fashion items are stuck in the
muddy waters of the Suez Canal instead of being sold by retailers in Europe. In addition, a new jam is lurking: As soon as the canal is clear again, many ships will simultaneously arrive at their
respective European or Asian ports of destination, eager to discharge their goods as rapidly as possible. This will pose a logistical challenge for the harbor authorities.

New jam is lurking
Once the canal is clear again, many ships will arrive simultaneously at their European respectively Asian ports of destination, eager to discharge their goods as rapidly as possible. Handling
this mooring demand could be a logistical challenge for the harbor authorities.  
Faced with the uncertain situation at the Suez Canal, shipping companies are considering navigating their container vessels around the Cape of Hope. This route is 6,000 km longer in comparison to
the canal crossing, and therefore more time-consuming and expensive, but at least there are no traffic jams. Although there is a risk of piracy.

Air and rail as options
Express services and some cargo airlines are benefitting from the “Ever Given” dilemma. They report an increase in orders from customers who are turning to air freight, despite much higher rates,
but where speed will pay off when shipping high-price products such as memory chips, electronic goods, or pharmaceuticals. Similarly, freight forwarders are increasingly asking for available
cargo train capacity offered by railway companies, to have their goods railed across the Eurasian land bridge so that they can meet supply chain agreements.

Heiner Siegmund

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Source: Cargoforwarder

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