Stuart White 26-03-2021 9:30 AM
Categories: HRMC Articles written by Managing Director, Stuart White



A ‘for want of a nail’ situation occurred this week, though you may not have noticed either the incident or its import.  In case you are not familiar with the ‘for want of a nail’ aphorism, it goes like this:

For want of a nail, the shoe was lost
For want of a shoe, the horse was lost
For want of a horse the battle was lost
For want of a battle the war was lost’

The incident in question involves the grounding of a container ship in the Suez canal.  In Egypt.  Not just any old container ship, mind you, but a real behemoth of the oceans,  a ship the length of four football fields which is now  backing up cargo and oil tanker traffic on one of the world's busiest shipping  routes.  This marine monstrosity, named the Ever Given,  could be stuck for weeks, according  to Peter Berdowski, CEO of Dutch company Boskalis which has been tasked with assisting the rescue, as the number of vessels backed up behind the stricken ship hit 150 at the time of writing.

It is thought the accident happened after the ship's captain and two Egyptian pilots sent on board to help guide the vessel became blinded during a sandstorm with high winds that sent the vessel off course and caused it to get wedged around 7.45am on Tuesday.  Berdowski compared the ship to 'an enormous beached whale' as he warned workers might have to start offloading cargo in order to reduce its weight and get it floating again.

'We can't exclude it might take weeks, depending on the situation,' he told Dutch media. 'It's an enormous weight on the sand. We might have to work with a combination of reducing the weight by removing containers, oil and water from the ship, tug boats and dredging of sand.'

Canal worker were forced to pause work overnight during low tide, resuming  efforts to free the 1,312ft-long, 175ft-wide, 200,000-ton MV Ever Given from where it has lodged diagonally across the waterway at first light.  If the ship cannot be easily freed, companies will have no choice but to sail their cargo around the Horn of Africa - a route which adds 14 days and 5,000 nautical miles to the journey.  Rescuers' best chance of moving the vessel will come on Monday when tides will be at their highest point.  If that window is missed then it will take another two weeks for the opportunity to present itself again

Every day the ship remains lodged, around 10 per cent of global sea trade and 30 per cent of container ship traffic is unable to move, blocking vital supplies of food, fuel and medicines from reaching their destinations.  
As the backlog builds, the costs for Ever Given's owners - Japanese firm Shoei Kisen KK - and their insurers will mount in what could turn out to be the world's most expensive traffic jam.  Industry experts warned the bill will likely total millions of dollars, even assuming the vessel can be moved quickly.  Insurers could find themselves liable for costs incurred by shipping firms whose routes are delayed, as well as having to compensate Egyptian authorities for loss of income made from can usage charges which amount to around 6 billion US dollars a year.  

The costs of the rescue operation will also fall on insurers, along with any damage the ship sustains while it is being salvaged, analysts have said. 

Canal service provider Leth Agencies said at least 150 ships were waiting for the Ever Given to be cleared, including vessels near Port Said on the Mediterranean Sea, Port Suez on the Red Sea and those already stuck in the canal system on Egypt's Great Bitter Lake.  Cargo ships already behind the Ever Given in the canal will be reversed south back to Port Suez to free the channel and authorities hope to do the same to the Ever Given when they can free it.

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.
Officially opened in November 1869, the canal connects the Mediterranean Sea to the Red Sea, meaning that it now carries much of the world’s oil supplies from the Arabian Gulf to Europe and the Americas.   One of the world’s most heavily used shipping lanes, the lane provides the shortest (193kms) maritime route between Europe and the lands lying around the Indian and western Pacific oceans, obviating the need to navigate around Africa, thus reducing the sea voyage distance by about 7,000km. The Suez Canal is one of the world’s most important waterways,  vital to global trade. About 12% of the world’s trade volume passes through it, providing a route from the Middle East, Asia, and east Africa to the Mediterranean, Europe, and North America and vice versa.  

According to the Suez Canal Authority, around 19,000 ships with a net tonnage of 1.17 billion tons passed through the canal during 2020.

If all those statistics are hard to comprehend, think of the  widest, longest truck and trailer you’ve ever seen – the ones that have support vehicles front and back warning other motorists of its presence.  Now imagine that vehicle jack-knifing across almost all 4 lanes of a highway whilst behind it and in front of it, other vehicles, the same size were moving and now they’re not!  Imagine, then, the headache, for anyone trying to sort out the gridlock that has resulted – dozens of vehicles too big to turn around, stacked up on either side of the highway and as far back as the eye can see, if not further.  Now scale it up size and turn the tractor-trailers into ships,  never easily maneuvered in the best of circumstances and you have to say, ‘Good luck, Berdowski’!

Meanwhile all over the world vital supplies of all manner of goods are being delayed, shipping owners are tearing out their hair at the loss of income and overtime they will have to pay the crews stranded in a gridlocked shipping lane and others en route are being diverted thousands of kilometres out of their way, using up more fuel and adding to the overall costs by the minute.

And all because one poor captain had what appears to be a weather-induced mishap.  For want of a nail……… 



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