Mar. 27, 2021

While Global Trade Reroutes, Salvors Try to Free Ever Given from the Suez

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Clashing opinions emerge as experts predict how long it could take to refloat the 20,124-TEU Ever Given, after the ship became lodged sideways in the Suez Canal during a dust storm on Tuesday morning.

Mohab Mamish, seaports advisor to Egypt’s President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi, claims the Canal will be open to the usual global trade traffic by the end of this weekend.

If so, it would mean a major sigh of relief for the hundreds of ships that will have to sail around the Cape of Good Hope while the Canal is out of service.

The detours and delays are almost guaranteed to tighten the squeeze on container availability, a sore subject since the onset of the Covid pandemic. Last year, containers were stranded around the world when factories shut down, and carriers have been chugging them back to Asia as fast as possible.

So far, some carriers have confirmed rerouting around the Cape of Good Hope. Flexport customers can find confirmed updates in real-time in the platform.

But some maritime salvors aren’t ready to commit to quick timelines. For now, companies Smit Salvage and Nippon Salvage are trying to get Ever Given afloat again—and it’s slow going.

Flexport CEO Ryan Petersen talked to David Stirling, one of the world’s leading maritime salvage experts, about what it takes to free a ship the size of Ever Given.

The options are dramatic.

How to Get a Cargo Ship Unstuck

First steps are what’s being shown in news broadcasts around the world: Excavators and tugboats working in tandem with the tides to attempt to refloat the vessel.

By digging out the banks of the Canal, Ever Given may have more room to maneuver. And tugboats might normally be useful for pulling a grounded ship free, but there’s not exactly a lot of room. Ever Given is wedged firmly into sand at bow and stern.

Add to that, the ship’s positioning is unusual. Some salvors are even warning Ever Given could break, because of changing flex points where floating and grounded portions meet as the tide comes in and out.

Next, Stirling would advise removing the fuel and ballast. By lightening the load, Ever Given could float more easily, but fuel and ballast are at the bottom of the ship, so the threat to her stability is worrying.

The final solution is the hoariest: container removal. Stirling considers container removal in a vessel accident nothing short of nightmarish.

The machine requirements are extraordinary, including cranes, barges, tugs, and other specialized equipment. Containers need to be moved one by one, and if they’re not moved evenly from both sides of the ship, the vessel tips.

The process could take weeks, as evidenced by the November 2020 container collapse on ONE Apus. That ship has finally sailed this month, after a painstaking container removal operation that took longer than three months.

The best case scenario for Ever Given, according to Stirling, would be that high tide comes in just as salvage teams are lightening the load. Tugs could then pull the ship with a big pulling system on the Canal banks. Some submarine dredging will be needed at that point, but the combination of factors could realistically refloat the ship.

Until that happens, we’ll be refreshing this page over and over.


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