Suez Ship Freed: What Comes Next?
The giant vessel that’s blocked the Suez Canal for almost a week was pulled free from the bank, a major step toward getting ships moving again along one of the world’s most important trade arteries.
The stoppage caused a tailback of hundreds of vessels, snarled supply chains already under pressure due to the coronavirus pandemic and provided a stark reminder of the fragility of the global trade infrastructure.
Horns sounded in celebration as the Ever Given -- a boat longer than the Eiffel Tower -- made her way up the canal after a frantic rescue operation involving teams of tugs and dredgers working day and night.
The container ship was moved from the canal wall around 3 p.m. Egypt time on Monday. It then moved north from the narrow southern end of the canal, where it ran aground on Tuesday, toward the Great Bitter Lake.
The Suez Canal Authority said navigation would resume as normal, though it didn’t specify when. There will be enough space for other ships to pass the Ever Given once it gets to the lake.
Salvage teams had struggled to free the vessel, 400 meters long and carrying almost US$1 billion of cargo. They tried to use high tides and a full moon to pull it from the sandy bank it smashed into during high winds, in an operation that also involved shovelling 30,000 cubic meters of sand and removing part of the canal wall.
Egyptian authorities were desperate to get traffic flowing again through the waterway that’s a conduit for about 12 per cent of world trade and about 1 million barrels of oil a day. This has been the canal’s longest closure since it was shut for eight years following the 1967 Six Day War.
Firms including A.P. Moller-Maersk A/S and Hapag-Lloyd AG were forced to reroute their ships via the southern tip of Africa, which can add two weeks on to a journey between Europe and Asia.
Shipping experts anticipate that the disruption will last for months because of schedules being upturned and the uneven wave of cargo that will hit ports down the line.
While the hit of the canal’s US$10-billion-per-day closure will likely be small given that global merchandise trade amounts to US$18 trillion a year, the prospect of hundreds of ships being thrown off schedule will ensure cargo delays in the weeks if not months ahead. The dozen or so container carriers that control most of the world’s ocean freight capacity are already charging record-high rates on some routes, and shortages of everything from chemicals and lumber to dockside labor already abound.
“The dominoes have been toppled,” Lars Jensen, chief executive of SeaIntelligence Consulting in Copenhagen, wrote on social media over the weekend. “The delays and re-routing which have already happened will cause ripple effects” which will be felt for several months.
Companies from Ikea to Caterpillar Inc. have been affected and thousands of live animals -- many of them sheep -- are stuck on ships in the area. Consumer goods, industrial inputs, and commodities from oil to coffee are caught up in the jam, with Asian exporters and European importers affected most directly.
The blockage held up about US$400 million an hour, based on rough calculations from Lloyd’s List that suggested westbound traffic to Europe is worth around US$5.1 billion a day and eastbound traffic is approximately US$4.5 billion.