Suez Canal remains blocked despite efforts to refloat grounded Ever Given
Update 1655 hrs GMT: Reports that the Ever Given has been partially refloated are inaccurate according to technical manager BSM. Suez Canal remains blocked and traffic is increasing at both ends of the canal
It is not clear what caused the grounding. Initial reports suggested that Ever Given had experienced engine trouble, but a spokesman for BSM, the vessel’s technical managers, confirmed that an initial investigation has ruled out any suggestion of mechanical or technical failure
THE SUEZ Canal remains closed following the grounding of a fully laden Evergreen-operated 20,000 teu containership on Tuesday, blocking traffic on one of the world’s most important waterways.
Despite reports that the 2018-built, Panama-flagged Ever Given (IMO: 9811000) had been partially refloated, the vessel’s technical managers BSM have confirmed that the vessel remains grounded.
An email seen by Lloyd’s List and sent by the GAC Egypt SCT Coordinating Office to the China Shipowners’ Association this afternoon said that the vessel was partially refloated and currently alongside the Suez Canal bank side.
“We are still waiting confirmed information for the towing direction. Convoy and traffic will be back to normal within [a] very short time as a soon as the vessel is towed to another position,” read the email, which was based on information given directly from the Suez Canal Authority early on Wednesday.
A spokesman for BSM, however, described the reports as “inaccurate” and confirmed that the vessel has not moved. Lloyd’s List Intelligence AIS tracking also confirms that Ever Given has not moved since it ran aground 151 km north in the Suez Canal at 0540 hrs GMT on Tuesday, turning sideways and causing a backup of nearly 100 other ships.
Several attempts to release the vessel using tugs have so far failed.
The latest update from Leth Agencies said that Ever Given remained grounded and in same position as this morning.
"Efforts to refloat the vessel have been conducted by the use of eight tugboats, without much progress," it said.
"Traffic remains suspended with no new or projected changes. As of 1745 hrs, we have received information that two dredgers are underway. They are expected to commence their efforts around 2000hrs."
The Ever Given salvage contract is a joint contract between Smit and Nippon Salvage Co.
It is not clear what caused the grounding. Initial reports suggested that Ever Given had experienced engine trouble, but a spokesman for BSM, the vessel’s technical managers, confirmed that an initial investigation has ruled out any suggestion of mechanical or technical failure.
Evergreen said that “gusting winds of 30 kts” caused the container ship to deviate from its course, leading to the grounding.
“Evergreen has urged the shipowner to investigate the cause of this accident, and work closely with Suez Canal Authority and related agencies to refloat the stranded ship as soon as possible,” it said in an emailed statement.
BSM was unable to confirm reports that the vessel had been hit by a strong winds.
The financial implications of an extended Suez Canal blockage are significant. According to Lloyd’s List Intelligence tracking data around 165 vessels representing 13m dwt are currently either waiting at either end of the canal or blocked from exiting.
That total includes:
• 41 bulk carriers (2.9m dwt) including six capes and 20 panamax and supramaxes. Two bulk ore carriers
• 24 crude tankers, including three VLCCs and nine suezmaxes
• 33 containerships, including four of 197,000 dwt-plus (including Ever Given) which puts them in the 20,000 teu category.
• 16 LPG or LNG carriers
• 15 product tankers including three long range two ships. These will likely be carrying 90,000-tonne cargoes of jet fuel or diesel to Europe or the Mediterranean.
• Eight vehicle carriers
Containerised goods represent around 26% of total Suez traffic and in value terms delays will be significant. Rough calculations suggest westbound traffic is worth around $5.1bn daily while eastbound traffic is worth $4.5bn.
Previous groundings in the Suez have seen smaller vessels get into trouble, including the 12,562 teu MSC Fabiola (IMO: 9447847), which blocked southbound transits for two days in 2016, and the 9,971 teu Maersk Shams (IMO: 9726669), in the same year. That vessel was refloated on the same day with little disruption.
It is unclear how long any operation to clear Ever Given will take. High spring tides due in the next couple of days may help ease the situation, but any effort to pull the ship off will require care.
An alternative will be to dig out a wide ‘turning circle’ in the soft sand banks that line the canal, but that too will take time and equipment.
But it may also be necessary to lighten the vessel, which will require a more complicated salvage operation. Given the size of the ship and the fact that it is fully laden, efforts to remove containers using a crane barge will be challenging.
Shipping lines that use the canal will now have to make the decision whether to stick or twist, either waiting for Ever Given to be moved and the canal to reopen, or reroute around the Cape of Good Hope to avoid the canal.
“All shipping companies therefore have to weight their options right now,” Sea Intelligence Consulting chief executive Lars Jensen wrote on LinkedIn.
“How long do they expect this process to take? If they are optimistic on the timeframe, they should proceed as per normal and just get delayed a few days.”
If they were more pessimistic about the outcome, they should already be contemplating diverting vessels around Africa on Asia-northern Europe and Asia-US east coast services, he added.
“This will take approximately one week more than the Suez routing — and also burn more fuel. In the pessimistic case, however, there is another effect. The longer the canal is closed, the larger a queue of vessels will be lined up to transit. This can create a backlog meaning that additional waiting times must be anticipated even when the canal does open up again.”
If the canal does reopen quickly, vessels waiting now should be able to make up time without too much disruption to the supply chain, which is already weighed down by port congestion and inland transportation delays.
A longer disruption, however, could lead to even more pain for shippers.
There were 1,519 vessels transits of the Suez Canal in February, 392 of which were containerships, according to the latest available data. On average, that is over 50 ship transits and 14 containership transits per day, so any delay in reopening the canal could quickly escalate in terms of delays.
“We don’t need this,” said Green Consulting chief executive Lars Green. “The uncertainty is already becoming a serious problem including for eastbound routing, which last time was tried before westbound, since transit time is not considered as important. But this is the westbound peak season for key commodities so is really bad timing.”
Ever Given was fully laden en route from Yantian, China, to Rotterdam.
BSM confirmed all the crew are safe and accounted for and that there have been no reports of injuries or pollution.
Ever Given is owned by Japan’s Shoei Kisan Kaisha and chartered to Taiwanese line Evergreen. It is classed by ABS and insured by the UK Mutual Steam Ship Assurance Association.
“Hopefully it won’t be too long but from the looks of it that ship is super stuck,” said Julianne Cona, an engineer on board the 2007-built, 6,188 teu Maersk Denver (IMO: 9332999), which came to a halt just behind Ever Given.
“They had a bunch of tugs trying to pull and push it earlier but it was going nowhere,” she said on Instagram, adding that after Ever Given grounded the ship behind hers lost power and “almost hit us, so it’s been a fun day”.
Earlier, shipping agents GAC reported that “a container ship en route from the Red Sea to the Mediterranean ran aground at km 151 in the Suez Canal at about 07.40 hours local time this morning [March 23]. The vessel suffered a black out while transiting in a northerly direction.”
“The ship was fifth in the northbound convoy. None of the vessels before it were affected, but the 15 behind it were detained at anchorages waiting for the canal to be cleared. The southbound convoy was also blocked,” GAC said.