Report on Grounding of M.V. Ever Given in the Suez Canal: Version 1
On 23rd March 2021, the world watched in bemusement (and some amusement!) as a 400m-long, 220,000-tonne ship, the Ever Given, became wedged diagonally across the Suez Canal. The incident, which blocked the Suez Canal for six days, led to a “traffic jam” of ships in both directions, and consequently affected the 12% of global trade which passes through the 193-km canal that links Asia and Europe.
The ship ran aground after its visibility was affected due to high winds and a sandstorm. However, industry experts and the Suez Canal Authority (SCA) suggest that technical and human errors may also be a contributing factor.
In this report, we analyse some of the causes of the incident, and also highlight its implications and lessons learned. This document has been compiled from information available in the public domain, viz. newspaper reports, online newsletters, and web articles. However, the writers noticed that most of this information is repetitive and disorderly, resulting in a confusing overlap of cause, effect, fact, opinion and salvage in the same sentence.
This report from Eka Infra is an attempt to de-clutter the available information and present the processed data in a more systematic and methodical manner for readers. It may be used as a template for further development and the document shall be further revised and updated as more information becomes available in the public domain. It is therefore being termed “Version 1”.
DISCLAIMER: – Although all the information in this report has not been verified, most of the publicly- available data has largely been cross-checked and corroborated with various reports to ensure that there are no inconsistencies or glaring inaccuracies. Only such data, which is considered reasonable and practical as per the professional experience and knowledge of the author has been included.
1. SALIENT FEATURES OF THE SUEZ CANAL
- The 120-mile-long Suez Canal, constructed in 1869, connects the Mediterranean Sea in the North with the Red Sea in the South, and provides the shortest sea link between Asia and Europe. In some locations, the waterway is only about 200 meters wide.
- As with most canals, the cross-section profile of the Suez Canal appears like an inverted trapezium. This trapezoidal geometry prevents water overflows in the channel, as it is accommodated in the larger areas at the top of the trapezoid.
- In February 2021, about 1,500 vessels transited the Suez Canal. About 12% of global trade passes through it, making it a very valuable and strategic asset for nations participating in the international trade and commerce ecosystem.
- The Suez Canal is managed and operated by the Suez Canal Authority (SCA), a public and independent authority headquartered in Ismailia, Egypt and reporting to the country’s Prime Minister. Its current Chairman is Admiral Osama Mounir Rabie.
2. GENERAL DESCRIPTION AND SPECIFICATIONS OF M.V. EVER GIVEN
|International Maritime Organization (IMO) #||9811000|
|Vessel Type||Fully Cellular Containership|
|Deadweight tonnage (DWT)||199,489|
|Gross Tonnage (GT)||217,612|
|Length Overall (LOA)||399.99 mtr|
|Class||American Bureau of Shipping (ABS)|
|Protection and Indemnity (P&I)||UK Mutual Steam Ship Assurance Association|
Ever Given is owned by Shoei Kisen Kaisha, a Japanese citizen, and chartered to Evergreen
Marine Corp., Taiwan. She is managed by Bernhard Schulte Shipmanagement (BSM), an
integrated maritime solutions provider with centres for ship management, crew service,
maritime training, and representative offices all over the world.
3. CHRONOLOGICAL SEQUENCE OF EVENTS LEADING UP TO THE INCIDENT
- Ever Given, fully laden, departed from the Port of Ningbo, China on 4 th March for the Port of Rotterdam. She joined the Northbound convoy (she was reportedly the 5 th of 19 vessels in passage) from Suez to Port Said, Egypt’s second-largest seaport (after
- She ran hard aground at the 151 km mark (about 6 nautical miles) from the Southern entry of the Suez Canal on Tuesday 23 rd March 2021 at approximately 5:40 hrs GMT (7:40 hours Egypt local time).
- Her bulbous bow got embedded in the Eastern bank of the Suez Canal, and was stuck there for 5 excruciating days.
- It was sheer cruel coincidence that one of the largest container vessels to transit the
Canal ran aground in one of its narrowest sections, blocking traffic in both directions,
spreading chaos and causing vast financial damage to global trade.
4. IMPLICATIONS AND CONSEQUENCES OF THE INCIDENT
After being stuck for days in the mud and sand across the southern end of the canal, the Ever Given – which Peter Berdowski, the CEO of Dutch dredging company Boskalis compared to “an enormous, beached whale” was finally freed. The effort involved a fleet of tugboats, dredgers and salvage crews that used cables or placed themselves directly alongside the stricken ship working round the clock for many days. She was finally dislodged on Monday, 29th March at 3:05 p.m. local time. These tugboats and dredging vessels shifted about 30,000 cubic metres (1.1m cubic ft) of mud and sand.
- At the end of the crisis, the crew were all safe and accounted for.
- At the time of writing, there were no reports of pollution.
- The 6,188 TEU Maersk Denver, which was following the Ever Given, managed to stop just in time, avoiding damage.
- The financial implications of the incident to the Suez Canal Authority, the shipping and
insurance industries, as well as its commercial impact on global trade and commerce are enormous.
- Each day of blockage and subsequent congestion plus backlog delayed about 55,000 TEU from Asia to Europe by some estimations. Subsequently, the continent’s main gateways also experienced significant port congestion. Naturally, there was also a corresponding delay in the flow of empty containers.
- At the time of dislodging the vessel, about 165 vessels (13 million dwt) were either waiting or blocked from exiting, including several oil tankers. By early April, over 160 ships had already passed through the canal since it was unblocked.
- This was an unusual event that caught the attention of the entire world, even those who
are usually completely unaware of how global trade works. A significant GA Claim is to be expected.
5. LIKELY PROXIMATE CAUSES OF THE INCIDENT
The Ever Given’s technical managers, Bernhard Schulte Shipmanagement suggested she veered off course due to strong winds. They also ruled out mechanical causes or engine failures as contributing factors. Eka Infra believes that the likely causes of the grounding are one or a combination of the following factors:
- Natural calamity such as a sudden strong gust of wind or Act of God.
- Machinery failure
- Human error on the part of the ship’s staff, pilot or it’s bridge management team
- Systems failure, such as the lack of proper risk assessment
- Inadequate depth of water (siltation)
Like most canals and restricted waterways, the Suez is difficult to navigate during strong winds or in poor visibility, which could have contributed to the incident.
6. SALVAGE AND RE-FLOATING OPERATIONS
Since the grounding had such a profound impact on global trade, time is of the essence in
restoring Suez Canal operations as soon as possible. Here is a brief overview of salvage and re- floating operations that are currently underway:
- Lloyd’s Open Form has been signed. Boskalis, Smit Salvage and Nippon Salvage are jointly trying to re-float the vessel.
- The rudder and stern frame may have suffered damage, as well as the bow. The Ever Given has reportedly heeled to port.
- It was determined that there was no breach of hull water-tight integrity. Bottom damage if any has not been assessed.
- Initially 2 tugs MOSAED 3 & MOSAED 2 were mobilised to try and free the vessel. Thereafter salvage efforts were supplemented by 8 tugboats, including BARAKA 1 (160 tons).
- With the vessel grounded at the bow and the stern and afloat at mid-length, excessive SAG is a serious concern.
- Subsequently, 2 dredgers (Mashhour & Ramadan) were deployed to dig-out the sand banks to create a ‘turning basin’ for the vessel.
- The option of cropping-off the bow of the vessel has been suggested.
If these attempts fail, the salvers may have to consider lightening the vessel by removing fuel oil or discharging containers. However, the former requires careful calculations regarding the adverse effect of the change in “Centre of Gravity” of the vessel before it is executed. The latter option of salvage operations is very complicated considering the size of the ship, and the associated logistical nightmare of barging the containers.
7. LESSONS TO BE LEARNT FROM THIS INCIDENT
The Ever Given grounding incident has created fertile ground for learning a few (harsh) lessons. These include:
- Legal Liabilities
- Ship & Port Management Responsibilities
- The nuanced approach of handing over control but retaining command of the vessel, the delicate balance between “Pilot’s Advice” and “Masters Over Riding Authority”.
- The resources available to ensure that vessel is able to maintain speed between maximum allowed in restricted waters and minimum required for steerage-way, consistently and over a prolonged length of time
- The fine balance between safety and commercial expediency and the means to ensure that safety is always paramount.
- Review of the Standard Operating Procedures and mandatory risk assessment (critical limits of meteorological conditions which demand aborting port operations) and risk management (tug escort policy, deployment of tugs considering vessel size, freeboard and windage and weather) Risks not only to the Suez, but also other maritime choke points including the Panama Canal, the Straits of Hormuz and Malacca Straits, due to the increase in ship-size and traffic congestion.