The Suez Canal is still blocked: Why you should care – CNET

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Julianne Cona/Instagram

It’s a new week, but authorities have yet to find a new solution to the ongoing blockage at Egypt’s Suez Canal. 

The Suez Canal is one of the world’s most important waterways. Located 75 miles east of Cairo, the capital, it links the Mediterranean Sea to the Red Sea, allowing for direct shipping from Europe to Asia. Roughly 12% of the world’s shipping traffic and a chunk of its oil supply goes through the man-made canal, which has become particularly vital following pandemic-related disruptions to shipping. 

If the canal’s cargo traffic is disrupted, that means delays in everything from oil to food to clothing to semiconductors. Which is why it’s a big deal that a 1,312-foot-long cargo ship called Ever Given has become stuck across the Suez Canal. 

With the waterway blockage entering its sixth day and attempts to move the cargo ship unsuccessful thus far, the fallout could reverberate around the world. 

What’s the latest update?

The Ever Given is still very much stuck. The latest update, per AP News, is that two additional tugboats have been deployed to help extract the 200,000-ton ship. It joins a fleet of around eight similar boats that have been on the job since Tuesday morning, when the Ever Given became lodged in the canal’s embankments and the saga began. At the same time, the SCA has onland heavy machinery working to dig around the ship’s bow, which would make it easier for the vessel to be pulled out.

The weekend also brought a brief moment of optimism, as nine tugboats were able to budge the Ever Given, according to Osama Rabie of the SCA. That did not lead to the ship’s refloating, however. 

Authorities have been working to extract the vessel for nearly a week. Time is of the essence here. Experts say a couple days of delay would be a major inconvenience for shipping companies, but that a week or more of delays could prove catastrophic and not just for shipping companies.

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Local authorities have been working since Tuesday to extract the 200,000-ton Ever Given ship.


Suez Canal Authority

“If the ship were to remain stuck for another week it could cause massive delays in the delivery of products and every second of delay leaves billions of dollars’ worth of disruptions on the line,” said Jennifer Bisceglie, CEO of supply-chain risk management firm Interos. 

Peter Berdowski, CEO of Boskalis, the company leading the rescue effort, has cautioned that the Ever Given being stuck for weeks is a very real possibility.

“We can’t exclude it might take weeks, depending on the situation,” Berdowski told the Dutch television programme Nieuwsuur. “It is like an enormous beached whale. It’s an enormous weight on the sand.”

Shoei Kisen Kaisha, the company that owns the Ever Given, released a statement Thursday apologizing for the issue. Meanwhile, the US government has offered assistance to the Suez Canal Authority.

“In connection with the ongoing efforts to dislodge the container ship that ran aground during its passage through the Suez Canal, the Suez Canal Authority values the offer of the United States of America to contribute to these efforts,” the SCA said in a statement, “and looks forward to cooperating with the U.S. in this regard in appreciation of this good initiative which confirms the friendly relations and cooperation between the two countries.”

Wait, what happened on Tuesday?

Ever Given is a 200,000-ton cargo ship that spans a quarter mile, roughly the length of four football fields. You’ll notice “Evergreen” is the written across its body but, confusingly, that’s branding for the Taiwanese company that operates the ship, Evergreen Marine Corp. 

On Tuesday, just before 8 a.m. Egypt time, strong gusts of wind knocked it off course. En route to Rotterdam from China, it was holding around 20,000 shipping containers of cargo, estimated to be worth $9 billion, when it became wedged in the canal’s east bank.

“The accident is mainly due to the lack of visibility resulting from bad weather conditions as the country passes through a dust storm, with wind speed reaching 40 knots,” Suez Canal Authority’s Rabie said in a statement. 

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Planet Labs

No one on board was injured, according to the ship’s technical manager, Bernhard Schulte Shipmanagement (BSM). But the task of extricating the Ever Given is momentous. The ship is wedged diagonally — as you can see in the above aerial shot — and is longer than the Canal is wide. The ship spans 1,312 feet while the Canal’s width ranges from 205 to 225 feet. 

The Suez Canal Authority, a government organization that runs and maintains the canal, deployed a gang of tugboats on Tuesday to pull the Ever Given out of its predicament, but as of Friday has yet to prove successful.

As the tugboats continue to attempt to extract the ship, Smit Salvage, a renowned maritime rescue company, has been hired to assist.

“It will be critical to inspect the vessel and how deeply it is lodged in the embankment,” a spokesperson said. “The question is how solidly she has been grounded.” 

Officials from Smit Salvage on Thursday told AP the rescue operation could take “days to weeks,” though Mohab Mamish, Egyptian President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi’s adviser on seaports and the former chair of the Suez Canal Authority, told the same news agency Thursday that navigation through the canal “will resume again within 48-72 hours, maximum.”  

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Over 150 cargo ships are reported to be bottlenecked before the canal. This shot from Planet Labs shows some of the traffic.


Planet Labs

What does this mean? 

“Ship in front of us ran aground while going through the canal and is now stuck sideways,” Julianne Cona wrote on Instagram as she snapped a photo of Ever Given from her own cargo ship, “looks like we might be here for a little bit.”

It’s one of the approximately 321 ships that have amassed in the bottleneck, according to the Suez Canal Authority.

Shipping companies now face a dilemma: wait for the Ever Given to be floated or divert around the Horn of Africa, another sea route that links Europe and Asia. The latter option would delay shipments by up to 14 days. 

Such delays could cause severe shortages, as the global shipping industry is already beset by a lack of shipping containers and other complications arising from the COVID-19 pandemic. Oil is particularly vulnerable to the blockage, with the Suez Canal being a key route for transporting oil from the Middle East to Asia and Europe. 

Brent crude oil, the price of which is used as an international benchmark, rose 2.85% after news of the Ever Given’s plight broke. The rise is tempered by further COVID-19 lockdown restrictions in Europe, which has decreased demand for oil. Local officials hope the issue can be resolved within days, but longer delays would make oil price spikes the beginning of the world’s trouble.

“The Suez Canal accounts for nearly 30% of all container ship traffic,” explained Interos’ Bisceglie, “with carriers transporting oil, natural gas, clothing, food, electronics, machinery, and even semiconductor chips, an item which has already been in the midst of a global shortage.  

Has this happened before?

Yes.

Following mechanical issues, a Japanese vessel became lodged in the ground under the canal water in 2017. Tugboats refloated the ship within hours. A year prior, the CSCL Indian Ocean spent five days aground before being pulled out by tugboats. 

At first, officials at the Canal hoped to dislodge the Ever Given within a day or two. Instead, the Ever Given is into its sixth day of being stuck, giving it the dubious honor of blocking the canal longer than any other cargo ship in history.

Officials at the Suez Canal are hoping the Ever Given is refloated on a timescale closer to the 2017 Japanese vessel than the 2016 CSCL Indian Ocean. 

If the vessel can be righted in two days,  “the impact will be limited to a gradual worsening of already very bad vessel delays.

“If… the Suez Canal remains blocked for another three-to-five days,” Sea-Intelligence vice president of product and operations Niels Madsen told Reuters, “then this will start to have very serious global ramifications.”

That comment was made four days ago.

Suez Canal memes are flowing, of course

Of course not! Here are the very best Suez Canal reactions. 

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