Suez Canal backlog is CLEARED: More than 400 supertankers stuck in shipping traffic jam are freed

2 months ago 17

More than 400 supertankers which had been stuck on the Suez Canal have finally been cleared more than a week after the Ever Given ship created a backlog which cost the economy billions.  

Traffic on the canal, a conduit for over 10 percent of world trade, began moving again on Monday evening after the 200,000-tonne MV Ever Given was refloated with the help of international salvage experts.

Today, Egypt's Suez Canal Authority said that the shipping traffic jam caused by the giant container vessel getting stuck on the crucial waterway for almost a week had finally been cleared. 

'All the ships waiting in the waterway since the grounding of the... (MV) Ever Given have completed passage,' SCA chief Osama Rabie said in a statement by the canal authority.

The wedging of the Japanese-owned, Taiwanese-operated ship had created tailbacks to the north and south totalling over 420 vessels, transporting billions of dollars-worth of cargo.

The guided-missile cruiser USS Monterey (CG 61), left, and the guided-missile destroyer USS Thomas Hudner (DDG 116) sail behind the aircraft carrier USS Dwight D. Eisenhower (CVN 69) during a Suez Canal transit, in this picture taken April 2, 2021

The blocking of the Suez Canal created a backlog of over 420 ships

Left: NASA's Landsat 8 satellite captured images of some of the vessels stuck on March 27, as hundreds of ships were left idling around the Suez Canal as engineers worked to dislodge a grounded vessel. Right: A map showing the location of the Ever Given when it became stuck, and other dots representing ships the became stuck on the Suez canal as a result

Rabie has acknowledged that the blockage, which began when the ship veered off course in a sandstorm, left Egypt's international shipping and wider reputation on the line.

Egyptian authorities have presented the freeing of the mega-ship as a vindication of the country's engineering and salvage capabilities.

'Ninety-nine percent' of personnel who worked to refloat the giant vessel were Egyptian, according to Rabie.

Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi has pledged investment to ensure no repeat of the episode, and the SCA has called for new tugboats and dredgers are needed.

Maritime data company Lloyd's List said the blockage had held up an estimated $9.6 billion worth of cargo each day between Asia and Europe.

The canal is economically vital to Egypt, which lost between $12 (£8.7) and $15 (£10.6) million in revenues for each day the waterway was closed, according to the canal authority.

Nearly 19,000 ships navigated the canal in 2020, working out an average of just over 50 per day, it says.

But the president and port authority have ruled out any further widening of the southern stretch of the canal where the boat became diagonally stuck.

Sisi oversaw an expansion of a northern section, which included widening an existing stretch and introducing a 35 kilometre parallel waterway, to much fanfare in 2014-15.

But that was achieved at a cost of over $8 billion, without significantly increasing revenues from the canal.

The Suez Canal earned Egypt just over $5.7 billion in 2019/20, little changed from the year before, and similar to the $5.3 billion in revenues earned back in 2014.

'Economically... (further expansion) would not be useful,' Sisi declared this week.

The costly blockage is likely to result in litigation, according to analysts, with the ship's Japanese owners, Taiwanese operators and Egypt itself all under the microscope.

The wedging of the Japanese-owned, Taiwanese-operated ship had created tailbacks to the north and south totalling over 420 ships, with billions of dollars-worth of cargo. Pictured: A satellite image from Planet Labs Inc, of the cargo ship MV Ever Given stuck in the Suez Canal, as tug boats worked to free it

Partially afloat: The Ever Given was straightened early on Monday before it was eventually freed and resumed its progress 

Back on course: The Ever Given was floating in the Suez Canal again and being towed by a fleet of tugboats on Monday as the shipping saga which has brought billions of dollars' worth in trade to a standstill neared its end 

Earlier this week, trapped container ships were seen still snaking their way through the newly unblocked Suez Canal as the week-long crisis on the waterway neared its end. 

Vessels anchored for nearly a week sailed up the narrow passageway on Tuesday morning where the 220,000-ton Ever Given had been wedged since March 23.

Easing tailbacks to the north and south, 113 ships were due to navigate the unblocked section of canal by 8am local time on March 30, Suez Canal Authority chief Osama Rabie told reporters last week.

He praised the speed of the salvage operation on the MV Ever Given as 'record-breaking', claiming it would have taken three months anywhere else in the world.

Canal services provider Leth Agencies said the 1,300ft Ever Given had been 'safely escorted to Great Bitter Lake' by the authority, which said it was now 'anchored' ahead of an investigation and out of the path of other ships. 

The bow of the Ever Given was finally dislodged from the channel's bank on March 29 and towed up the waterway after tugboats had straightened the vessel in an early-morning operation and dredgers had vacuumed away large chunks of sand.

One of the world's most important shipping lanes-the Suez Canal-is reopening this week. But as satellite imagery showed, the traffic jammed up around the canal's two ends was substantial and was expected to take a long time to disperse

Egyptian boys celebrate across from the Ever Given after it was fully dislodged from the banks of the Suez Canal on Monday

The ship had earlier been moved from its diagonal position across the waterway in the first stage of the salvage operation

'The relief is palpable that we won't see a long-term closure of what is an important trade route,' said market analyst Michael Hewson at CMC Markets UK.

But Guy Platten, the secretary-general of the International Chamber of Shipping, told BBC Radio 4 that legal issues arising from the blockage could last for months as people try to recover the cost of delayed or expired goods. 

'There is no doubt about it, the disruption will carry on. Everything's sort of out of kilter really,' he said, adding that 'some cargoes will have almost certainly perished as a result of this'. 

'There's lots of litigation coming down the road as we try and rebalance it all and people try and recover the monies they've lost,' he said. 

Fears have also been raised of criminal probes into the ship's 25-man Indian crew, with one expert telling Indian media that investigators would listen to recordings of mariners' conversations in the lead-up to the blockage. 

The ship's Japanese owner said last week that it would be part of the investigation but refused to discuss possible causes of the accident, including the vessel's alleged high speed. 

A ship sails through the Suez Canal as the shipping lane re-opened following the week-long saga that disrupted global trade 

The US-flagged Maersk Denver was also navigating the canal piled high with containers Tuesday as traffic resumed a week after the Ever Given blockage which caused a traffic jam of more than 400 vessels on the busy waterway 

The Liberian-flagged container ship YM Fountain was among those to sail up the narrow section of the Suez Canal on Tuesday which had previously been blocked by the Ever Given in a damaging six-day stoppage 

Why is the Suez Canal so important? 

The Suez canal, which is around 120 miles long links the Persian Gulf and the Mediterranean and is the shortest shipping route between the Atlantic and the Indian Oceans. 

Before the canal, shipping from Europe either had to go overland or risk going around the Cape of Good Hope and the South Atlantic.  

In April 1859, construction of the canal officially begins, much of the work financed by France. 

It was opened for navigation on November 17, 1869 for vessels from all countries, although the British government later wanted to have an armed force in the area to protect shipping interests having picked up a 44 per cent stake in the canal in 1875. 

The Suez Canal links the Red Sea and the Mediterranean providing a short cut from the Indian Ocean to the Atlantic 

From then, while nominally owned by Egypt, the canal was run by Britain and France until its until its nationalisation in 1956 . 

The nationalisation by Nasser saw Britain and France launched an abortive and humiliating bid to recapture the vital waterway. 

The canal was shut briefly following the attempted invasion, before in 1967 the canal was shut for eight years following the Six Day war with Israel. 

Due to the instability in the region, the canal remained closed until 1975 - its longest ever closure, as the waterway had been mined and some vessels had been sunk in the main channel.  

In 2015 a new section of the canal opened, allowing vessels to traverse the waterway in both directions at the same time. Future plans will see the two-lane system extended across the entire network- doubling current capacity of the canal.  

The largest cargo vessels pay more than £180,000 in tolls to traverse the canal. 

On average about 40-50 cargo vessels use the canal on a daily basis in a trip that takes around 11 hours, as speed along the waterway is limited to about 9kts to prevent the banks of the canal getting washed away. 

Along the canal there are emergency mooring slots so vessels can pull over if they are suffering a mechanical issue.  

When the canal first opened, the channel was approximately 26 feet deep and 72 feet wide at the bottom. The surface was between 200 and 300 feet wide to allow ships to pass. 

By the 1960s, dredging of the canal increased the depth to 40 feet and widened the waterway to allow larger vessels.   

Now, the minimum depth of the canal is 66feet, though this is been increased to 72 feet - allowing even larger vessels.  

Photos and tracking sites showed the Panama-flagged Ever Given being pulled up the waterway last Monday afternoon, opening the door for billions of dollars' worth of goods to resume their progress through the canal. 

Salvage teams were blaring their foghorns in celebration as they pulled the Ever Given towards the Great Bitter Lake, a wide stretch of water where Egyptian authorities say the ship will undergo technical inspections. 

Egypt's president Abdel Fatteh al-Sisi had earlier declared that 'Egyptians have succeeded in ending the crisis' despite the operation's 'massive technical complexity.' 

But it was unclear how long it would take to deal with the backlog, with the world's largest container firm, Denmark's Maersk, warning that 'it could take six days or more for the complete queue to pass'. 

In the hours before the ship was dislodged, the tailbacks had reached 425 vessels carrying everything from crude oil to cattle. 

Dozens more were taking the alternative route around the Cape of Good Hope at Africa's southern tip - adding some two weeks and thousands of miles to journeys and threatening delivery delays. 

Maritime data company Lloyd's List said the blockage had held up an estimated $9.6billion worth of cargo each day between Asia and Europe. 

The rescue team had made a major breakthrough early on Monday by dislodging the ship's stern and straightening its position, taking advantage of a high tide brought on by a 'supermoon' .

The bow remained wedged in the canal bank for several more hours after the stern was freed, but the tugboats finally wrenched it out after the high tide returned later on Monday - allowing the ship to float again. 

The fully laden vessel was hauled over the canal bank at around 3pm and the head of Egypt's Suez Canal Authority announced shortly afterwards that shipping traffic had resumed in the waterway. 

'She's free,' an official involved in the salvage operation said. 

The ship was due to head to Rotterdam after transiting the canal on its way from Asia, but it was unclear whether it would continue to the Dutch port after its inspection or head elsewhere for repairs.  

The Ever Given's managers, Bernhard Schulte Shipmanagement (BSM), said there had been no reports of damage to the cargo.  

Peter Berdowski, the head of a Dutch salvage firm hired to extract the Ever Given, celebrated the successful operation by saying: 'We pulled it off!' 

'I am excited to announce that our team of experts, working in close collaboration with the Suez Canal Authority, successfully refloated the Ever Given, thereby making free passage through the Suez Canal possible again,' he said. 

The Dutch firm said the operation carried out under 'the watchful eye of the world' had required 13 tug boats and the dredging of approximately 30,000 cubic metres of sand. 

Evergreen Line, which is leasing the Ever Given, confirmed the ship had been successfully refloated and said it would be inspected for seaworthiness. 

Egyptian authorities have said they can accelerate convoys through the canal once the Ever Given is out of the way, with canal chief Admiral Osama Rabie vowing that 'we will not waste one second'.

He said it could take from two-and-a-half to three days to clear the backlog, while another Egyptian source said more than 100 ships would be able to enter the channel per day. 

But other estimates say it could take up to 10 days to clear the traffic jam, and Maersk said the knock-on disruptions to global shipping could take weeks or even months to unravel.

The tailback of ships carrying everything from crude oil to cattle had reached 425 by the end of the drama with vessels waiting in a queue at the two ends of the canal, in the Mediterranean and Red Seas. 

Egyptian canal authorities said more than 100 ships were due to navigate the unblocked section of canal by 8am on Tuesday, carrying billions of dollars' worth of goods out of a traffic jam 

The Suez Canal Authority has said they plan on seeking $1 billion (£722 million) in compensation after the Ever Given ran aground and stopped all operations for nearly a week

The container ship 'Ever Given' enters Great Bitter Lake after it was refloated, unblocking the Suez Canal on March 29, 2021 in Suez, Egypt

Egypt is expecting more than $1 billion (£722 million) in compensation after the cargo ship blocked the Suez Canal, a top canal official said earlier this week.

Suez Canal Authority (SCA) CEO Ossama Rabei also warned the ship and its some $3.5 billion (£2.5 billion) worth of cargo will not be allowed leave Egypt if the issue of damages goes to court.   

But he explained that if an investigation went smoothly and the compensation amount was agreed on, then the ship could travel on without problems.   

On Thursday, the ship's technical managers, Bernhard Schulte Shipmanagement, said in an email to The Associated Press that the ship's crew was cooperating with authorities in their investigation into what led to the vessel running aground. 

They said that Suez Canal Authority investigators have been given access to the Voyage Data Recorder, also known as a vessel's black box. 

The news was announced by Rabei in a phone interview with government-run broadcaster Sada Elbalad on March 31.

He said the Canal Authority would demand the $1 billion (£722 million) sum in compensation for the six-day delay.

'It's the country's right,' Rabei said, without specifying who would be responsible for paying the compensation. 

It is expected either Japanese company Shoei Kisen Kaisha, who own the Panama-flagged Ever Given, or the Taiwanese firm Evergreen Marine Corp, who had charted the ship, will be liable for the compensation.    

But Evergreen Marine Corp have said the accident was not their responsibility and doubt they will be sought for compensation.  

Rabei said that in the past, canal authorities and the ship's owners have had a good relationship. 

Two Egyptian canal pilots were aboard when the ship got stuck. 

Such an arrangement is customary to guide vessels through the narrow waterway, but the ship's captain retains ultimate authority, according to experts. 

The compensation sum includes the costs of the salvage operation, transit fees that were lost and the costs associated with stopping all traffic in the canal

The Ever Given is now about halfway in a holding lake called Bitter Lake as the SCA investigates. All of the ship's crew are reportedly cooperating and have offered all of the logs or information that has been asked of them

The ship was trapped for six days before authorities finally managed to set it free in an oepration involving tug boats and diggers

The Suez Canal is one of the busiest shipping lanes in the world as it creates the shortest distance for vessels to cross from the Indian Oceans into the Atlantic taking roughly 16 hours 

The other options would be to sail around South Africa's Cape of Good Hope, a voyage that could take around 24 days to complete, or to use the Arctic shipping root, which would add 35 days to the trip

The Suez Canal is one of the busiest shipping lanes in the world as it creates the shortest distance for vessels to cross from the Indian Oceans into the Atlantic taking roughly 16 hours. 

The other options would be to sail around South Africa's Cape of Good Hope, a voyage that could take around 24 days to complete, or to use the Arctic shipping root, which would add 35 days to the trip. 

The Ever Given had become jammed diagonally across a southern section of the canal in high winds early last Tuesday, halting traffic on the shortest shipping route between Europe and Asia. 

The bow of the Ever Given was finally dislodged from the channel's bank on Monday and towed up the waterway after tugboats had straightened the vessel in an early-morning operation and dredgers had vacuumed away large chunks of sand.   

At least 400 vessels are waiting to transit the canal, including dozens of container ships, bulk carriers, oil tankers and liquefied natural gas (LNG) or liquefied petroleum gas (LPG) vessels by the time the Ever Given was freed on Monday.

The Canal reopened for shipping traffic in both directions of Monday evening after the waterway was checked for damage caused by the Ever Given. 

But the unprecedented shutdown, which raised fears of extended delays, goods shortages and rising costs for consumers, added to strain on the shipping industry, already under pressure from the coronavirus pandemic. 

On the move: The Ever Given was back on its way in the Suez Canal on Monday, being pulled by tugboats towards a wide stretch of water nearly a week after it got jammed in the Egyptian shore in a blockage that strangled global trade

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