Ship stuck in Suez Canal freed

On Monday morning, salvage teams managed to free the container ship, the Ever Green, blocking the Suez Canal. The situation posed a potential global crisis and cost billions of dollars in lost trade. Elite salvage teams combined the high tide with tugboats to refloat the lodged ship after removing 30,000 cubic meters of sediment.

The tugboats blasted their horns as the escorted the Ever Given ship out of the canal. The celebration marks the end of over a tumultuous period marked by uncertainty around global trade.

CEO of the savage company tasked with freeing the ship Peter Berdowski told AP, “We pulled it off! … I am excited to announce that our team of experts, working in close collaboration with the Suez Canal Authority, successful refloated the Ever Given … thereby making free passage through the canal possible again.”

The Ever Given became caught in a sandstorm that lodged it into the sides of the canal on March 23rd. The long queue of ships waiting to pass posed a potential humanitarian crisis as the crews began to exhaust their resources, pirates, and delay of essential shipments. Over $9 billion in global trade was lost every day the ship was stuck. 

Many ships took to making the journey around the Cape of Good Hope. A costly and long detour at over 5000 kilometers, the path was further complicated by pirates. Fears of piracy as ships left patrolled routes shook the global shipping industry, as traditional trading routes regained relevancy. Hundreds of thousands of dollars in fuel and supplies are needed to divert around the southern tip of Africa.

Egyptian President Abdel Fattah el-Sissi wrote on Facebook, “Egyptians have succeeded in ending the crisis despite the massive technical complexity.” Egypt suffered nearly a $100 million in economic loss over the crisis and took pride in the fact the nation was critical in restoring access to the canal. Furthermore, Egypt considers the Suez Canal part of its national pride, adding to the nation’s jubilation in seeing the crisis resolved.

The Netherlands sent advanced salvage teams to the delicate operation. Turbulent threated the ship’s integrity and rose concerns about cracking the hull. Additional concerns about the ship tipping over complicated the response. Luckily, the Dutch salvage teams were able to utilize specialized vessels to remove sand and mud from under the boat. The specialized equipment removed sentiment while simultaneously tugging the ship towards freedom. The operation completed quicker than most estimates, some claiming it would take “weeks.”

The Ever Green is now headed for inspection in Egypt’s Bitter Lakes to determine if it is fit to finish its journey to Rotterdam. Once it arrives, the Evergreen Marine Corp, the group that operates the ship, will handle the inspection. The ship is expected to need repairs before it continues onto Rotterdam to deliver its cargo.

A Suez Canal Official told CNN, “As soon as the ship reaches the waiting place in the Bitter Lakes… the 43 ships waiting in the Bitter Lakes will begin to move south towards the Gulf of Suez.” Ships are expected to begin navigating the canal soon. A journey that takes 12 hours, the backlog of ships will take over 10 days to clear. The Suez Canal Authority hopes to speed up the average 80-90 ships per day to a 24/7 operation hoping to clear the billions of dollars in goods waiting to reach their destination.

MAERSK, a major multi-national shipping corporation, issued a statement Monday morning advising its vessels to expect re-opening and clearing the backlog to take some time. Once open, MAERSK and its shipping partners will guide their three ships currently stuck through the canal. Currently MAERSK has 3 ships in the canal, 34 waiting to enter, and 15 redirected around Africa’s southern tip.

Once the backlog begins to clear, inspectors will descend upon the canal in order to determine whether repairs need to be made. The Suez Canal is used to transport millions of barrels of oil, 7% of the world’s supply, 10% of global trade, and a significant amount of natural gas. Extended delays caused panic surrounding the global economy and now the entire shipping industry is under question.

Capt. John Konrad, CEO of gpcaptain.com, told the AP, “ We’ve gone to this fragile, just-in-time shipping that we saw absolutely breaking down in the beginning of COVID. We used to have big, fat warehouses in all the countries where the factories pulled supplies. … Now these floating ships are the warehouse.”

The COVID-19 Pandemic coupled with this recent question has brought a large stress burden upon global supply chains. Questions remain as to how reliable “just-in-time” shipping is in the face of disaster, especially when transporting essential goods. Fragility in supply chains is expected to grow as climate change and other geopolitical issues may threaten large amounts of global trade at once.

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