The 21st century version of the Suez crisis has now seen vessels diverting, heading around the Cape of Good Hope as shipping comes to grips with the full ramifications of a blocked key chokepoint in global trade.
Efforts to dislodge the 20,388 teu Ever Given, which is currently straddling Asia and Africa with its bow lodged in the eastern bank of the canal, have thus far failed. Tugs tried to move the ship in the first 24 hours after it careened across the waterway. A digger has been trying to free the bow of the ship, while three dredgers have arrived and are working on the port side of the giant 399 m long Evergreen-operated vessel.
The CEO of the parent company of one of the salvage teams working on the Ever Given warned earlier this week the operation could take weeks.
Authorities say that the spring tide expected on Sunday and Monday will add 46 cm in water depth and are placing a lot of hope that this will be enough to shift the fully laden Japanese-built ship.
There were 71 vessels waiting for northbound transit and 79 for southbound in the Suez Canal as of yesterday, according to Sharaf Shipping Agency. A number of ships further away are taking evasive action.
The Ever Greet, also operated by Evergreen, and the Hyundai Prestige were the first two boxships reported to have changed their courses, making for the tip of southern Africa rather than the Suez Canal. The HMM Rotterdam followed suit today, doing a u-turn around Gibraltar.
According to to the planned schedules tracked by IHS Markit, in the seven days from Tuesday when the Ever Given ran aground, 49 container ships carrying an estimated 407,500 teu were set to pass through the Suez Canal in both directions.
Braemar ACM has tracked four bulk carriers turning around and heading back into the Indian Ocean while two LNG carriers in the mid-Atlantic appear to have also changed course. Brokers Simpson Spence Young (SSY) meanwhile are reporting tanker charterers are asking for voyage options with routing via the Cape of Good Hope and the Suez Canal.
Diverting around Cape of Good Hope adds 3,800 miles to the journey and up to 12 days extra sailing time.
An estimated 12% of global trade passes through the Suez Canal, comprising more than 1bn tonnes of goods each year, according to the International Chamber of Shipping (ICS).
Guy Platten, secretary general of the ICS, commenting on the Ever Given, said yesterday: “Hundreds of other ships are also affected. The damage done to the global supply chain will be significant.”
In the tanker sector, rates for suezmaxes and LR2s and LR1s are trending higher because of the blockage, something tipped to spread to other segments if the Panama-flagged boxship is not shifted soon.
Claire Grierson, senior director of tanker research at SSY, commented: “If the canal disruption is prolonged, the rerouting of tankers around the Cape of Good Hope will add greatly to voyage times, affecting vessel supply replenishment for some regions and this will boost freight rates at a time when many tanker segments have been struggling. If replacement vessels are needed, this will also cause rates to jump.”
In LNG, Braemar ACM has tracked 15 LNG carriers immediately impacted by the canal snarl-up, while there are 54 bulk carriers currently waiting either side of the key waterway.
The Panama Maritime Authority stated yesterday that the Ever Given, owned by Japan’s Shoei Kisen, suffered machinery problems affecting manoeuvrability early on Tuesday morning leading to the accident, something the ship’s owner, operator and manager have repeatedly denied, insisting the ship veered off course because of high winds.
The ship’s operator, Evergreen, said in a release yesterday “There had been no black out resulting in loss of power prior to the ship’s grounding.”
The Japanese owner of the ship, Shoei Kisen, said today it was hoping to free the vessel on Saturday.
“We are continuing works to remove sediment as of now, with additional dredging tools,” the company said . Shoei Kisen is an affiliate of Imabari Shipbuilding, Japan’s largest shipbuilder, run by the Higaki family.
“I apologise for causing great trouble and concern,” Yukito Higaki, president of Shoei Kisen, said today.
The Ever Given’s manager, Bernhard Schulte Shipmanagement (BSM), gave an update yesterday, noting: “The focus now is on dredging to remove sand and mud from around the port side of the vessel’s bow.”
In addition to the dredgers already on site a specialised suction dredger is now with the vessel, capable of shifting 2,000 cu m of material every hour.
Groundings are the most common cause of shipping incidents in the canal, with 25 in the past 10 years, according to insurer Allianz. The 199,629 dwt Ever Given is by some distance the largest ship to have grounded on this key trade artery. Where the ship has grounded only between 60 to 70% of the left hand side of the channel is dredged deep, suggesting it is not just the bow of the Ever Given that is hard aground, but up to one third – or 133 m – of the fully laden ship.
Splash will be bringing regular updates on the operation to remove the Ever Given over the weekend.