There is a temptation to view the stranding of giant cargo ship the Ever Given in comical terms. Youve probably seen the memes already.Or maybe you’ve taken the deep dive into the wacky conspiracy theory pedalled by Qanon that the 200-tonne, 400m vessel is being used for child sex trafficking by Hillary Clinton.
Yes, that really is a conversation being had on messageboards among conspiracy theorists.
Or perhaps you were drawn in by the gigantic, crude rendering of the male anatomy that eagle-eyed shipwatchers pointed out when analysing the ship’s path through the Red Sea.
All of that is a distraction from the reality that the situation has implications for far flung parts of the world.
To put into context what it means to have the container ship blocking the narrow strait that connects the Mediterranean with the Red Sea, you first have to understand why the Suez Canal is so important.
According to researchers from the University of Plymouth, as much as 90 per cent of the world’s trade is transported by sea.
“The Suez Canal is the gateway for the movement of goods between Europe and Asia, and it was responsible for the transit of over 19,000 ships in 2019, equating to nearly 1.25 billion tonnes of cargo,” they researchers wrote in an analysis published by The Conversation.
“This is thought to represent around 13 per cent of world trade so any blockage is likely to have a significant impact.
“The Suez Canal Authority started expanding the strait in 2014 to raise its daily capacity from 49 vessels at present to 97 by 2023. This gives an indication of how many ships are likely to be affected by the current situation.
“There are reports that the incident has already halted the passage of ten crude tankers carrying 13 million barrels of oil, and that any ships rerouted will have 15 days added to their voyage.”
According to Bloomberg, 600,000 barrels of crude oil flow from the Middle East to Europe and the US via the Suez Canal every single day.
Individual vessel owners who cannot wait for the Ever Given to be painstakingly refloated now have a tough choice on their hands.
They can travel around South Africa, but a voyage to London that was originally travelling through the Suez Canal will be delayed by at least 10 days.
Part of the problem with attempts to shift the massive ship — so long it measures front to back the same distance from bottom to top of the Empire State Building — is the sheer scale of it.
It is 400m long, 59m wide and 16m deep below the waterline. It can carry 18,000 containers. The researchers from Plymouth University say it could take “potentially a lot of time” before the vessel is unwedged from its position.
In the meantime, excavators and tug boats worked on Wednesday to free the ship after a stranding that authorities blamed on a freak sandstorm.
Egypt’s Suez Canal Authority (SCA) said the stranded ship was caught up in a gale-force sandstorm, a common occurrence in Egypt’s Sinai desert at this time of year, which blotted out light and limited the captain’s ability to see.
It was “mainly due to the lack of visibility due to the weather conditions when winds reached 40 knots, which affected the control” of the ship, the SCA said.
The Taiwan-run, Panama-flagged vessel is blocking at least 100 ships in the narrow channel that divided continental Africa from the Sinai Peninsula in Northern Egypt.
Ranjith Raja, head of MENA oil & shipping at Refinitiv, said “we’ve never seen anything like this before”.
“It’s likely that resulting congestion will take several days to weeks to clear as it is expected to have a ripple effect on the other convoys, schedules and global markets.”
He noted that oil prices soared on Wednesday as the ship remained stuck in the canal.
Estimates suggest the price of world oil surged 4.6 per cent.
— with AFP