The Ever Given, a vessel with a gross tonnage of 219,000 and a deadweight of 199,000 tonnes, got wedged across the southern end of the Suez canal after a dust storm allegedly threw it off course on Tuesday. Since then, the waterway across which more than 10% of all global trade passes through has been blocked and it has led to the worst maritime traffic jam in living memory. Each day, it is estimated that the Ever Given blocks about $9.6 billion worth of cargo, and getting it out of there could take weeks.
So why has everyone failed to dislodge the Ever Given despite the importance of the Suez canal? For starters, it is the length of 4 football fields and is covered head to toe with shipping containers full of cargo. A number of approaches ‘could’ be adopted for this purpose, each coming with its own set of problems. Let’s go through them now.
Option 1: Just push it out of there
Since the Ever Given has brought global trade to a standstill, why doesn’t everyone band together and give it an almighty push? Easier said than done. The sheer mass of the ship along with the way it is stuck in the sand means it won’t budge, no matter how hard the tug boats push.
Option 2: Can’t push it, maybe try pulling instead?
Pulling the Ever Given is as futile as pushing, it just won’t move. Unless it somehow manages to lose half its weight, it can’t be moved from its current position.
Option 3: Drain the fuel and water to make it lighter?
One way to make the Ever Given lighter would be to offload the fuel and ballast water it has onboard. Unfortunately, that can’t be done either since the ship would capsize thanks to the containers stacked on top of it. The only way to start unloading would be from the top.
Option 4: Okay, maybe try unstacking the containers instead?
The Ever Given is carrying about 20,000 containers, each brimming with its own cargo. Unloading it from the top would take days, and besides, the Egyptian authorities don’t have a floating crane that can reach that high anyway.
Option 5: How about we try digging around it to make some room?
That is currently the most probable solution, and work is already underway to dig around the places where the Ever Given is stuck. However, the rocky soil keeps hampering the work since the equipment has to be placed carefully or it just won’t work. In order to move the ship, over 500,000 cubic feet of sand have to be moved first. Dutch salvage company Smit and Japan’s Nippon Salvage are leading the efforts to…well, salvage the Ever Given. Still, the process will take days or even weeks.
Option 6: What if that doesn’t work either?
Wait for high tide and pray to God, that’s pretty much it. Considering how it is affecting pretty much everyone around the globe, a monumental effort to offload the containers could take place as well. Currently, many ships are being redirected around the Cape of Good Hope in South Africa, but with an added distance of about 5000 miles, it is not a viable alternative.
It’s been nearly 5 days, and the Ever Given has shown no signs of moving. The company that owns it, Shoei Kisen Kaisha. has issued an apology. But at a cost of nearly $400 million every hour, the Egyptian government and the traders around the globe will hardly feel very charitable. Let’s hope that the Ever Given is dislodged as soon as possible, since many companies have already been hit hard by COVID restrictions and a global traffic jam isn’t helping.