On 21st March 2021, the grounding of the giant container ship ‘Ever Given’ at the Suez Canal, one of the world’s busiest maritime routes, made headlines all over the world; not only because of the diagonal way in which the ship blocked the narrow waterway, but also because its blockage resulted in a global trade disruption, proving the vital role of shipping in world’s economy and people’s everyday life. Let’s remember a few facts about the incident.
Accident details: At a glance
- Type of accident: Grounding
- Vessel(s) involved: Ever Given (container ship)
- Date: 23 March 2021
- Place: Suez Canal, Egypt
- Fatalities: No
- Pollution: No
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On 23 March 2021, the almost 400-meter-long container ship “Ever Given”, operated by Taiwanese shipping company Evergreen Marine, was en route from Tanjung Pelepas, Malaysia, to Rotterdam, the Netherlands. At around 7.40 am local time, the ship approached the southern end of the Suez Canal, one of the world’s busiest shipping lanes.
As it was navigating through a narrow stretch of the canal, a sudden dust storm hit, reducing visibility and making the ship difficult to control. The strong wind made the vessel deviate from the waterway and run aground, ending up with its bow wedged in one bank of the canal and the stern nearly touching the other.
Photos of the giant ship grounded diagonally in the canal, blocking any other vessel from passing through, soon spread all over the world. A total of 15 vessels were behind Ever Given when it ran aground, but the grounding blocked traffic in both directions.
Efforts to refloat the vessel were initially unsuccessful. Only on 29 March 2021, six days after the incident, salvage crews managed to refloat the ship and its billion-dollar cargo. Until then, a traffic jam of over 200 vessels put the incident in the spotlight of global media attention.
Aftermath and liabilities
Several legal disputes arose after the high-level incident, with various parties seeking compensation for the losses incurred. As soon as the ship was freed on 29 March, it headed to the Great Bitter Lake in Egypt for technical inspection. In the following days, global trade gradually came back to normal, but Egyptian authorities did not release the ship until the claim was resolved.
More specifically, on 13 April, the Suez Canal Authority (SCA) officially seized the ship on court orders until the owners paid $900 million in damages. Then the Authority reduced the amount by around $300 million. On 4 July, the owners and the SCA agreed on compensation, but the exact amount was not disclosed.
The ship departed from the Suez Canal on 7 July, 106 days after the incident, for scheduled deliveries of cargo at several European ports. Ever Given finally docked in Rotterdam, its original destination, on 29 July 2021.
Overall, Ever Given’s grounding resulted in significant economic losses, with some estimates suggesting that it cost the global economy around $10 billion per day. Apart from this, recent estimates suggest that claims related to the incident could amount to $2 billion.
In the latest updates, Danish shipping giant Maersk announced in February 2023 that it is suing the owner, operator and the vessel’s technical manager over losses suffered during the canal’s blockage.
While investigations are still ongoing and the exact causes are yet to be determined, a combination of factors likely led to the incident, including the harsh weather conditions, the size and maneuverability of the vessel, and the complex and challenging nature of navigating the Suez Canal.
Extreme weather conditions seemed to be the immediate cause of the incident. Egyptian meteorologists reported that high winds and a sandstorm had affected the area on the day of the grounding, with winds gusting as much as 50 km per hour (31 mph).
In addition, it has been suggested that human error may have also played a role in the grounding. For example, the SCA suggested that the ship may have been traveling too fast, which was not proven. In addition, the owner’s side claimed that the container ship was wrongly allowed to enter the waterway despite bad weather.
Shortly after the incident, the SCA revealed accelerated plans to expand the waterway in a bid to prevent similar incidents in the future. Under the plan, the southernmost 30 km of the canal, where the Ever Given became grounded, will be widened 40 metres eastward and deepened to 72 feet from 66 feet, which is expected to improve ship navigation by 28%. The works are expected for completion in July 2023.
The incident highlighted the vital role of shipping on world’s economy. Although 80% of the goods around us have arrived to us on a ship, people are often unaware of how much they depend on maritime trade. The blockage of the Suez Canal, a very busy shipping waterway, disrupted the flow of goods, causing delays, congestions and, subsequently, higher shipping costs.
Therefore, the Ever Given grounding highlighted just how interconnected the global economy is and how reliant many industries are on just-in-time delivery systems, as well as the vulnerability of the global economy to disruptions in transportation routes.
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