SUEZ, Egypt — One of the world’s mega-ships caused a huge traffic jam of vessels at either end of the Suez Canal after it was blown by high winds and sent it aground.
The 220,000-ton, 400-meter-long Ever Given ship got stuck near the southern end of the canal Tuesday. According to the Suez Canal Authority, it had lost the ability to steer amid high winds as much as 31 mph (49.88 kph) and a dust storm.
Eight tugboats are working to free the vessel that blocked a lane key to the Asia-Europe trade through which 50 ships had passed per day in 2019, according to Egyptian government statistics.
Bernhard Schulte Shipmanagement (BSM), the ship’s technical manager, said it ran aground at 05:40 GMT Tuesday. All crew are safe and accounted for. There had been no reports of injuries or pollution.
The accident was caused by strong winds that turned the containers above deck into a vast sail that directed the vessel off course said Jamil Sayegh, a former captain and maritime law specialist with experience in navigating the canal.
“The force generated by the wind would have unintentionally altered the heading of the vessel,” he said.
The former captain also added that human error may have been a factor. Ships that pass through the canal traverse in convoys. In this case, none of the other vessels behind the Ever Given had run into similar troubles.
“Ships are machine run by propulsion engines with rudders that are almost identical in all vessels. The variables on board are the software and the personnel.”
“If you delay this vessel at Suez anchorage, it means you are making the shipowner lose $60,000 per day or $3,000 to $4,000 per hour of delay,” Sayegh said.
The incentive to continue journeys without any pause had grown with the rise of just-in-time supply chains in recent decades said Peter Sand, chief shipping analyst with Bimco, an international association of shipowners.
“Some production lines may be halted due to containers being caught in traffic jams like this.”
The Ever Given is one of the new category ships called ultra-large container ships (ULCS), some of which are even too big for the Panama Canal, which links the Atlantic and the Pacific. It is carrying hundreds of containers bound for Rotterdam from China.
The Suez Canal is one of the most important waterways in the world and links the Mediterranean with the Red Sea and the shipping lanes to Asia. It is 120 miles (190 km) long, 24 meters (79 ft) deep, and 205 meters wide. It can handle dozens of giant container ships a day. It was expanded in 2015 to enable ships to transit in both directions simultaneously in some areas of the waterway. (/DS)