MSC: Knock-On Effects of Suez Shutdown May Last for Months

Suez canal
A CMA CGM LNG-fueled Megamax transits past as Egyptian officials discuss the reopening of the canal (Suez Canal Authority)

Published Mar 30, 2021 6:06 PM by The Maritime Executive

The grounded boxship Ever Given has been refloated and removed from the southern section of the Suez Canal, and she is anchored in the Great Bitter Lake for a damage inspection. 

Traffic has resumed in earnest, but the saga is not over: the canal will still have to clear a significant backlog of vessels, a process that is expected to take about 10 days. Afterwards, multiple seaports will have to deal with the simultaneous arrival of vessels that have been waiting to clear the canal. 

"It will take some time for the effects of this incident to be fully absorbed," said Ahmed Bashir, the head of Maersk's Global Execution team, in a video address released to customers. "Aside from the delays directly caused by the closure, there is an inevitable bunching of vessels that occurs as they call their next ports."

MSC, the number-two carrier by size and Maersk's partner in the 2M Alliance, said in an update that "the incident is expected to result in a constriction of capacity, adding continued pressure on shipping and port networks well into the second quarter of this year."

An investigation into the cause of the casualty has begun, and early AIS reconstructions have pointed analysts towards the possibility of wind effects and bank effect - the suction effect that occurs when a vessel moves near to the side of a channel. As a 20,000 TEU boxship, the Ever Given has far more sail area than the 10,000 TEU vessels that dominated the east-west tradelanes in years past. An experienced Suez Canal pilot told the Washington Post that the new Megamax-class vessels are more affected by wind than smaller boxships. 

“The ships today are bigger than they used to be,” the pilot told the Post. “This is something new. We haven’t seen this before.”

Bank effect, which is proportional to speed, may have played a role as well. An AIS reconstruction by Francesco Morelli of Maritime Casualty Specialists appears to show the Ever Given coming near to the western bank twice before veering starboard and going aground on the eastern bank. 

Ever Given AIS Track until getting stuck in Suez Canal, 23/03/2021 from r/CatastrophicFailure

The vessel's crew and its operator will come under considerable scrutiny as cargo interests and shipping lines attempt to recover damages related to the shutdown, but one group - the salvors - will be hearing plenty of congratulations. 

"We want to commend Egyptian authorities for - the only way to put it is - a Herculean effort to get this ship free," said Pentagon Press Secretary John F. Kirby in a briefing Monday afternoon. "Clearly they have done just amazing work getting that freighter off the canal bank . . . I think they deserve a lot of credit for that."