Suez Canal: Trapped container ship 'could have impact on UK deliveries'

26 March 2021, 07:37 | Updated: 26 March 2021, 09:43

The Ever Given ran aground on Tuesday in the narrow, man-made canal dividing continental Africa from the Sinai Peninsula
The Ever Given ran aground on Tuesday in the narrow, man-made canal dividing continental Africa from the Sinai Peninsula. Picture: PA

By Kate Buck

A 400m-long container ship which has been stuck in the Suez Canal could take weeks to move and cause delays to deliveries to the UK.

The UK Government said British experts are ready to assist if required, while Dutch maritime recovery firm Smit Salvage attempts to dislodge the Ever Given ship which ran aground in the south of the canal on Tuesday.

The Prime Minister's official spokesman said: "We are working with the authorities to assess the situation, we stand ready to provide any assistance that we can.

Read more: Suez Canal - Efforts to free 200,000-ton trapped ship enter third day

Read more: Suez Canal blocked as 200,000-ton container ship runs aground

"We have not been approached by any UK companies or organisations with concerns about implications for their shipping plans.

"However, some goods destined for the UK may be delayed in transit."

Peter Berdowski, CEO of Dutch company Boskalis, which has been brought in to help the rescue efforts, said the ship was like an "enormous beached whale" and warned it could take weeks to get it free.

To put into context just how massive the 400m-long Ever Given is, the Shard in London comparably stands at a measly 310m
To put into context just how massive the 400m-long Ever Given is, the Shard in London comparably stands at a measly 310m. Picture: PA

He told Dutch media: "We can't exclude it might take weeks, depending on the situation.

"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."

To put into context just how massive the 400m-long Ever Given is, the Shard in London comparably stands at a measly 310m.

The canal authority said on Thursday between 15,000 to 20,000 cubic meters (530,000 to 706,000 cubic feet) of sand will need to be removed to reach a depth of 12 to 16 meters.

Once that is done the ship should be able to float freely.

Around 12% of the world's trade passes through the waterway, opened in 1869, and figures show around 52 ships a day go through.

Bloomberg estimates the blockage is halting around $9.6 billion worth of shipping traffic.

An unnamed Egyptian canal authority official told Associated Press that the refloating operation was a “very sensitive and complicated” and needed to “be handled very carefully.”

The massive ship is blocking one of the most important routes on the planet
The massive ship is blocking one of the most important routes on the planet. Picture: Julianne Cona

They wanted to avoid “any complications” that could further extend the canal closure.

Admiral Osama Rabie, chairman and managing director of the Suez Canal Authority (SCA), confirmed on Thursday that navigation through the Suez Canal had been suspended.

Eight large tugboats, the largest of which can tow 160 tonnes, are being used to move the mammoth vessel, the SCA said.

Director of policy at the UK Chamber of Shipping, Peter Aylott, said the timeline for removal of the ship will depend on tide and weather conditions in the coming days.

Mr Aylott, who used to sail ships down the Suez Canal and knows the area well, said: "The complication is that the tides are obviously different each day, and we're working towards a high tide at the end of the weekend which would be the best time to try to refloat it.

"But the prevailing wind has caused issues with the vessel being stuck to the bank - it's difficult for the tugs to pull it away.

"It could take some time, or it could be that by Sunday we see the vessel refloated."

He said the ship is "one of the largest" to travel on the canal, carries "around 20,000 containers", weighs around 220,000 gross tonnes and is around 400 metres long.

"You're looking at something like the Empire State Building in terms of length," he said.

"The impact on energy sources such as gas and oil will be an impact on prices, but I doubt it will be an impact on supply because it's not quite such a just-in-time cargo," he added.

"I think the major issue will be unintended consequences at what's in the containers, and that will really depend on what's on board the vessels."

Mr Aylott added that groundings in the canal are "quite rare" and the cause is a "matter for an inquiry", but strong winds on Tuesday may have been a factor.