What Happened When Ever Given Got Stuck in the Suez?

It’s hard to maneuver something that big, because the mathematics of angles change.  It becomes a science of steering, engine thrust, and reverses thrust.  People who Captain commercial vessels also must deal with other factors including wind, and ocean currents.

If you think driving a freight vessel is easy, guess again. The software and navigational systems on vessels are not as advanced as you might think they are.  It’s not like the auto-park feature on your new luxury car that does all the work for you.

It took more than 144 hours of hard work, and emergency effort to get the Ever Given out of the Suez Canal.  And the estimates were that for every hour the vessel blocked shipping traffic, it was costing the port and businesses millions of dollars.

So, what happened on the Ever Given freight vessel that allowed it to get stuck in the Suez Canal? And why did it capture international attention? It may be hard to believe, but one ship could really hold up much of the world’s supply chain.  And that’s why it was critical to resolving the problem as quickly as possible.

How Big Is the Ever Given Vessel?

When you are trying to get your head around exactly how big the problem was, you must be able to visualize the size of the vessel.  Many people have never been to a shipping port and have no idea how big the average vessel can be.  And the Ever Given was a lot bigger than the average cargo ship.  

The Ever Given was headed from Malaysia to the Netherlands.  Onboard the giant vessel, was 17,600 containers full of cargo and freight.  The total length of the Ever Given vessel is 400 meters long (from bow to stern).  It is also 60 meters wide.  That is 1,312 feet long by almost 200 feet wide. 

Still, having trouble visualizing the size of the ship? Imagine laying the Empire State Building on its side.  That would be the total length of the Ever Given vessel.  And you thought parallel parking your SUV was hard? Imagine steering that through the Suez Canal, into and out of cargo docks. 

The displacement for the Ever Given is rated at 265, 876 long tons.  The vessel has a total full capacity of 20, 124 TEU.  It was the 13th ship scheduled to pass through the Suez Canal on March 23, 2021.  Why would a ship that big want to squeeze through the Suez Canal? After all, the canal is only 200 meters or 656 feet wide at its most narrow parts.  And it is only 24 meters or about 78 feet deep. 

The Suez Canal is a vital shipping route.  If vessels cannot travel through the canal, it means a three-week detour around the continent of Africa.  And tens of thousands of dollars in lost productivity, additional fuel costs, and shipping delays.

Factors That Led Up to the Ever Given Getting Stuck in the Suez Canal

Behind almost every story of a collision or accident, is someone wondering whether it was safe to disembark.  On March 23, 2021, the weather wasn’t great.  The captain and the two Egyptian ‘pilots’ had a long discussion about the weather conditions.  The rest of the helmsmen on the Ever Given were from India.  And a language barrier among the crew may have contributed to some extent, to the events that led up to one of the biggest traffic jams in marine history.

On March 23, 2021, four ports nearby had already been closed because of bad weather.  Captain Kanthavel is a very experienced mariner, and he had a lot of pressure on him.  The Ever Given was carrying an estimated $1 billion worth of cargo.  Major brands like Nike, Ikea, and Lenovo had large numbers of containers on the ship.  And there were also one hundred (100) containers that had undocumented flammable liquids. 

Despite the bad weather, the Captain of the Ever Given decided to proceed through the Suez Canal. That day, there were gusting wind speeds of up to 46 miles per hour.  When vessels that are fully loaded with containers stacked high encounter winds like that, the containers act like a sail.  And the wind can strongly push the vessel off course.

What Happened After the Vessel Ran Aground?

In the tight confines of the Suez Canal, that proved to be disastrous. The crew tried to adjust for the wind gusts and correct the drift the wind was creating.  It is impossible to steer a vessel straight when the wind is pushing you sideways. And that’s how the Ever Given ran aground at an angle that blocked the Suez Canal. 

The “bank effect” that happens with heavy vessels near the shore, created a vacuum effect that pulled the Ever Given into the bank.  Between the wind gusts and the ‘bank effect’ the Ever Given was unable to correct course. That is why it became lodged on the bank at an angle.

The Ever Given beached at 7:42 a.m. at the 151 km marker of the Suez Canal, with its stern connecting with the west bank of the canal.

Within thirty-five minutes at 8:17 a.m. two vessels, the Mosaed 2 and the Mosaed 3 had reached the Ever Given and started the rescue and towing operation.  It took seven days, six hours and forty-eight minutes until the Ever Given was refloated and back on course through the Suez Canal.  And then it was taken to Great Bitter Lake for inspection for damage.  It was there that the almost 18,000 containers on the Ever Given were offloaded to other vessels.

What Was the Total Cost of the Ever Given Vessel Incident?

The Suez Canal is the world’s fourth-largest cargo and freight port.  Every day that the Ever Given vessel was stuck in the canal, it blocked traffic.  Nothing could get through.  And that cost was estimated at a loss of over $400 million per day, impacting the global supply chain.

Ships had to detour around the Suez Canal which also caused significant shipping delays.  Cargo vessels are safe going through the Suez Canal because it has high levels of security.  However, taking a detour route meant that other vessels would face an increased risk of piracy, and freight theft.

Because of the damage to the shipping channel, dredgers had to be deployed after the Ever Given was freed and removed from the Suez Canal. The displaced sediment had to be dug out and removed, to make sure that shipping lanes were restored to the correct depth for safe passage.

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