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$6bn and counting: Suez snarl-up stretches into third day with warning salvage could take weeks

High tide passed Wednesday evening and the giant 20,388 teu Ever Given still has not moved. Twisted starboard, its 399 m hull may be connecting continents, but at the same time it is halting global trade, with more than 140 ships now delayed and garnering more mainstream press for shipping than anything else has for months.

Early indications from the Suez Canal Authority that the giant ship would be shifted within two days have now proven to be wide of the mark, with the CEO of the parent of the Dutch salvage firm overseeing the operation warning the vessel could be stuck for weeks.

The International Chamber of Shipping estimates that $3bn worth of cargoes pass through the 152-year-old waterway a day.

The Ever Given, which ship agency GAC said lost power Tuesday morning, ploughing into a bank of the canal, remains wedged on one of the most important shipping arteries in the world despite many tugs, diggers and dredgers being deployed to refloat it.

A team of eight from SMIT Salvage flew into Egypt this morning and are inspecting the ship and the surrounding canal area.

Peter Berdowski, the CEO of SMIT’s parent, Royal Boskalis Westminster, was interviewed on Dutch state TV last night. He told Nieuwsuur, a Dutch current affairs television program, “The more secure the ship is, the longer an operation will take. It can take days to weeks.”

He also pointed out that bringing in all the necessary equipment needed for the refloating operation could take time.

“This is not an Amsterdam-Rhine Canal where you have the same depth over the entire width. You are dealing with an avenue in the middle that is up to 25 meters deep, but soon after that it goes to 15 meters, to 11 meters, and then even less to the ends. The ship is 15.7 meters deep. Especially at the front the ship is a meter on the slope,” Berdowski told Nieuwsuur, describing the Ever Given’s current predicament as being akin to a very heavy whale on a beach.

As well as removing ballast water and fuel, the SMIT team will assess whether containers will need to be offloaded from the ship, a potentially time-consuming process.

“In our view the situation now looks unlikely to be heading for a swift resolution given that it is not a simple grounding,” analysts at Braemar ACM Shipbroking stated in an update to clients today.

Under normal circumstances an average of 52 vessels of all types goes through the Suez Canal per day.

According to the World Shipping Council, the maximum throughput of the canal is 106 vessels per day so if the waterway was shut for one day, the resultant queue could be cleared within the first opening day using the daily surplus capacity. If it was closed for two days, it would then take two additional days after re-opening to also clear the queue given that more vessels will arrive for normal transits every day.

Leth Agencies, a local port agent, tallied 71 vessels waiting at Suez Anchorage awaiting northbound transit as of midnight last night and a further 79 vessels awaiting southbound transit of which 34 are anchored at Great Bitter Lake and 45 at Port Said Outer Anchorage.

Ships behind the Ever Given in the canal are being reversed south back to Port Suez to free the channel. Authorities hope to do the same to the Ever Given when they can free it.

The huge vessel is operated by Evergreen from Taiwan and owned by Japan’s Shoei Kisen who today apologised for the “tremendous worry” that the accident has caused to the other vessels and their involved parties.

Shoei Kisen conceded the operation to move the ship will be “extremely difficult”.

The ship’s manager, Bernhard Schulte Shipmanagement, insists the accident happened because of high winds, something backed up by vessel tracking of the accident (see below) which shows how the ships in the convoy behind the Ever Given moved erratically too, and were nearly involved in a collision.

The 2018-built Ever Given was involved in a collision two years ago, smashing into a ferry in Hamburg.

Sam Chambers

Starting out with the Informa Group in 2000 in Hong Kong, Sam Chambers became editor of Maritime Asia magazine as well as East Asia Editor for the world’s oldest newspaper, Lloyd’s List. In 2005 he pursued a freelance career and wrote for a variety of titles including taking on the role of Asia Editor at Seatrade magazine and China correspondent for Supply Chain Asia. His work has also appeared in The Economist, The New York Times, The Sunday Times and The International Herald Tribune.


  1. Aren’t there marine airbags that can be used to lift the ship so it can be pulled by the tugs?

    1. Donald, it’s 200.000 metric tons, sitting on the mud, or sand. Rather unlikely to lift her on airbag. Sure, the force exerted on the bottom is much less than 200.000 tons, but still – it is aplenty.

  2. It’s interesting to learn from the investigation report as to the extent of risk assessment carried out on board and whether the Master and the Suez Canal authorities had considered to delay the transit of the 399 mtr long container ship, which has a lot of windage, in the prevailing weather conditions.

    We have been hearing about the recurring loss of containers at sea, and mega container ships arriving ports with huge number of containers shifted at sea in heavy weather on vessels operated by reputed container liners. Wonder whether the Masters of these ships were under commercial pressure to arrive on schedule, regardless of the heavy weather and whether they weren’t allowed to reduce speed or remain “hove to” in heavy weather for safe carriage of cargo.

    Probably the Master couldn’t have delayed the ship, as he may have been under undue commercial pressure? While the technology and the size of container ships have grown exponentially, are ports and canals adequately equipped to handle these huge vessels, and to deal with contingencies?

    1. Very well said.

      The problem with Risk Assessments today is that no one likes an RA that concludes that the job cannot proceed. The risk assessor is encouraged or threatened ( or something in-between) to cook up additional control measures to mitigate the risk….and clear it

  3. Liners should try to build 30K TEU vessel in order to feed newsmakers with such stories. Where is the limit?

    Why Master of a such big vessel is getting less than Tanker Master? Less responsibility or less job?

  4. Looks like bank suction to me, but it’s rather useless to judge such incident only ftom AIS marker movement. So, we’ll have to wait for official report. Still, she was sooo close to E bank, probably to counteract E’ly wind gusts, but once she’s got sucked to the bank on the stern, she veered to PS. Then the bridge team managed to avoid hiting W bank of the canal, but overreacted and hit the E bank instead. In these conditions they would have to be extremely lucky not to run aground. It’s nothing to do with training, or technical issues. Except – should have escort tug, as the tanker preceeding her. But Canal Rules does not require that, so imagine captain landing $ invoice on his owner’s desk for tug escort which was not compulsory… I feel really sorry for these guys.

  5. In my humble opinion, I believe that the transit of these huge ships should be analyzed and studied to carry out the transit through the Panama and Suez Canals.

    It should be considered that both canals (Panama and Suez) were built and delivered in the early 20th century, existing at that time;
    ships with a totally different design to those of now, with a smaller size and tonnage, measures more different than the current ones, this would require a restructuring of the transit of this new design of these vessel, the number of containers embarked on board and the conditions of the trimming of the containers plus the quantity of containers embarked on board.

    Kind Regards

    Tomislav Raymondi

  6. Blackout or not, ship of such size has almost no any chance to correct situation if something is going wrong. 400m steaming with 25 km per hour in narrow channel. Just not enough time to do anything… as it is evident from the AIS data, speed is too high.
    We see a chain of disasters with these ships and the next one is just over the corner…

  7. Most obvious is the number of non-Mariner “experts” recruited to comment on it. I am not a salvor, but l am at least a practical seamen. Very few people ashore can claim that. One tv station even put the ship at the wrong end of the canal.

    The owners say it never lost power, and l’m inclined to agree with them. Let us suppose she never lost her steering too. So how did a ship running in mid-channel end up athwart the canal, jammed fore and aft? There is a great deal of talk about the wind. But surely if the ship was vulnerable to a 40 knit wind, and it can be forecast, what was she doing there anyway. Unless the canal routinely holds back ships that can be blown ashore due to their high windage, which l’ve never heard of, it must be concluded that it was safe for her to proceed. Also, why haven’t there been more groundings like this if boxboats of this size are vulnerable to high winds? It just doesn’t make sense.

    So we are left with pilot error or QM error steering the ship. Remember all she had to do was stay in mid-channel, on a straight course. If high winds had been expected the pilot would have put on a course adjustment to counteract it, called leeway. No set would be required, because the ship was either stemming or carrying the tide. This would act to slow or speed up the vessel’s speed over the ground.

    But once she was athwart the channel, the current would act to hold her in place, on whichever side is up-tide. I don’t think she is aground. I think she is wedged tight diagonally athwart the channel. I think she might go higher with high tide, and be left there as the depth shallows after the tide has turned.

    How to get her off? Well, we start with an underwater survey to see where she is being held. I would adjust her ballast or introduce or pump out ballast to improve her trim and lighten her. I would get the deep-sea tug to carry out the anchor that has a clear hawse, take it as far as it can, and lower it to the sea-bed. The windlass will bring the chain tight and ready to heave. With the harbour tugs pushing on one side of the bow,her bow-thrusters pushing at full power, and the deep sea tug pulling the bow with a big towing wire, on the other side, and even using some dynamite to weaken the sand around the stem, it should be possible to pull the bow around. Depending on the tidal direction which gets behind the ship, wait for full ebb or flood, before or after high tide.

    I would not have tugs pushing the ship’s stern, but the survey may recommend otherwise.

    I think they will call for more tugs before they start to lighten her, since the latter will be time-consuming.

    I know we’re missing something where her original sheering off coarse and jamming against the bank is concerned. I do not call this a grounding. That would only apply if only one end or side of the ship is being held by the sea bed or rocks or whatever.

    I don’t know much about the weather experienced that time of the year, but my point stands. If the ship can’t complete a transit because it’s vulnerable to high winds, then surely such ships should not be allowed to transit. Or do they just take a chance with every one? For it to be a factor the wind would have had to be of unprecedented strength, not normally encountered.

    And what about the vessels following her. They seem to have no trouble with the wind strength at all. Mostly they had trouble staying in mid-channel with their engines stopped. Do they anchor and use the engines to stay in mid-channel?

    That’s my take on initial inspection. 2 big ocean-going tugs might be strong enough to pull her off.

    Belatedly word is leaking out about engine trouble, a sand storm and loss of control. Initially the owners denied this. We shall see!

    1. Thanks Colin for discussing some very good and logical points. Of course the accident might have been (as many are) due to an unfortunate alignment of multiple failures & errors both human & mechanical. But we will just have to wait and see.

      1. Agreed Greg. We just don’t know enough at this point. My feeling is if they can get 2 or even 3 powerful tugs pulling, plus the anchor chain carried out as far as possible to allow the anchor to bite and hold in what is probably sand, plus bow thrusters, plus harbour tugs, plus a few charges to soften up the sand gripping her bow, they have a good chance. Engines and rudder to be used once the stern is clear to avoid fouling. Discharging the containers is not an option for me. You’d need a floating crane 100 feet high, a lot of barges, and a lot of time. The salvor who did the Costa Concordia is an original thinker. I hope he’s in charge of the operation. Extreme measures like cutting off the bulbous bow would be his style.

    2. I am a captain on a similiar size of a ship. I transited Suez canal with 40 knots of wind last month. To steer in such conditions becomes difficult and a considerable helm is required. I am of the opinion that it was caused due to steering errors.

      1. Shammi Lala, respect for you who speak out and done this job before.
        Thanks for your sensible answer.

    3. Her bulbous bow has broken through the “riprap” wall. She is not simply wedged against the bank.

  8. This is an incident which could change the very dynamics of ULCC’s sailing through the Suez Canal . A maritime disaster of epic proportions much comparable to the ‘Exxon Valdez’ disaster that happened eons back… Books will be written by those who have never sailed on these gentle monsters of the sea and training done on simulators which are made by people who are well versed with the theoretical knowledge of speed and transverse thrust but never seen or been on the bridge of a vessel… The question will be asked …..was it human error or wind or the combination of both or maybe something else and we all await the outcome of the investigation but, should an error of judgement by the pilots be overlooked if at all and all blame put on the Master is my question ? Is that fair ? ‘’Courses and speed as per Pilots advise and Masters orders ‘’ is what every officer of the watch writes when signing off his watch after a long pilotage but again is that right or should this be reworded to ‘’Courses and speed to Pilots orders’’ ? Pilots have local knowledge and shipping companies pay big sums of money for that very local knowledge ..wind /tides/ currents /shipping movements / tugs/ anchorage availability or not / local weather forecast all would and should be expected to be the pilots ‘forte’ that one would expect but at the end, the Master is blamed ,why, because he is in command and can give a helm order or an extra engine movement or he knows his ship the best ???? whats the solution then ? Would having one tug as an escort be an answer or two or three for these ships ? Five are unable to move the gentle giant so what is the next step for such a calamity not to occur again ??? Well ,we all know now that wind may be cross with us at anytime and strike like it unfortunately did on the Ever Given (if wind is indeed the cause ).. we need to be better prepared next time by bringing the best minds and experience from senior Masters sailing on these ships as a start to work together and be ahead of the curve when coming face to face with disasters like this …. that’s the next step… Mankind has fought a pandemic recently together ..we can overcome this also very easily I am sure….All the best to the shipboard and shore teams working this including the work put in by the Suez authorities to get the vessel out …

  9. Sofme suggested ideas that could free the ship are:
    1.using strong water jetting and sand sucking by dredging , along the ship perimeters and especially in the proximity of the bow area to create a temporally turning basin.
    2.simultaneous pulling the ship ,using strong tugs,
    3. If doable, unload some of the containers to balance the ship and reduce wind forces.
    4.The same water jetting May also be required for the back section (tail) of the ship,.

  10. Use a dredging machine to blow out sand from the beneath the ship to free her from the stuck and then use tugs from both ends to pull it turning to the direction it ought to be going.

  11. Solution = possible – Ship stuck in Suez Canal use airbag to lift ship
    Not sure who give / submit this possible solution to.
    Please pass on if you find merit.
    I have used airbags to lift large Refinery Hydrocarbon tanks for repair in the past.\
    Place airbag /s under container ship,
    Anchor tank from sides to prevent lateral movement,
    Hook up tugs,
    Inflate airbags,
    Lift ship,
    Use tugs and move ship,
    Alberta, Canada

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