Human error may have caused the Ever Given cargo carrier to crash into the banks of the Suez Canal rather than strong winds, authorities revealed today.
Osama Rabie, Egypt’s Suez Canal Authority chief, confirmed that ‘strong winds and weather factors were not the main reasons’ for the ship’s grounding in the busy waterway five days ago.
Instead, he said there may have been ‘technical or human errors’ which led to the crash.
Maritime tracking technology has simulated the moment the Ever Given cargo carrier lurched into the banks of the Suez Canal when it ran aground on March 23.
Two attempts to dislodge the 1,300ft-long container ship – and reopen the critical global trade route – will be made today after efforts yesterday failed.
The Panama-flagged vessel, which is as long as the Empire State building, has been wedged since Tuesday and caused tailbacks of around 280 ships floating in and outside the single-lane Egyptian waterway.
High winds were understood to have blown the ship across the narrow canal, that runs between Africa and the Sinai Peninsula and facilitates 12 per cent of international shipping, but Mr Rabie today confirmed this was not the main reason for the crash.
A video from Vessel Finder recreating the crash by using the ship’s onboard tracker shows the moment it veered to port before suddenly going hard to starboard and hitting the banks.
It ran aground about 3.7 miles north of the southern entrance, near the city of Suez, and forced boats astern to grind to a halt.
Captains appear to be banking on the ship being freed soon and are anchoring outside the Suez rather than going around the Cape of Good Hope, which could add days onto their journeys and even expose them to piracy.
The Panama-flagged vessel, which is as long as the Empire State building, has been wedged since Tuesday and caused tailbacks of around 280 ships floating in and outside the single-lane waterway in Egypt
Workers were dredging the banks and sea floor near the vessel’s bow to try to get it afloat again as the high tide starts to go out
Plans were being drawn up to pump water from interior spaces of the vessel to lighten the load, and two more tugs should arrive by Sunday to join others already trying to move the massive ship.
An official at the Suez Canal Authority said they were planning to make at least two attempts today to free the vessel when the tide drops. He said the timing hinges on the tide.
At least 10 tugboats have already been deployed to assist in refloating the vessel, according to Japanese firm Shoei Kisen KK, which owns the container ship.
Shoei Kisen President Yukito Higaki told a news conference at company headquarters in Imabari in western Japan that workers were also dredging the banks and sea floor near the vessel’s bow to try to get it afloat again.
He said in a statement today that the company was considering removing containers to lighten the vessel if refloating efforts fail, but that this would be tricky.
An approach was made by President Joe Biden, who said yesterday: ‘We have equipment and capacity that most countries don’t have and we’re seeing what we can do and what help we can be.’
That the White House stands ready to assist stresses how essential the Suez Canal is to the smooth functioning of global trade, and companies and governments are already warning of delays to goods arriving from Asia.
Analysts say an estimated £290million worth of trade is being held up every hour the ship remains wedged across the canal.
The backlog of vessels could stress European ports and the international supply of containers, already strained by the coronavirus pandemic, according to IHS Markit, a business research group.
It said 49 container ships were scheduled to pass through the canal in the week since the Ever Given became lodged.
Ikea has warned of delays to supplies, which will mainly affect goods from Asia such as electricals and furniture.
The canal provides the shortest possible route for ships travelling between Asia and Europe, with the only alternative being to sail around the Cape of Good Hope – adding 14 days and 5,000 nautical miles to the journey
A huge container ship blocking the Suez Canal is threatening to delay shipments to the UK, with electronics, clothes, furniture and toys all likely to be affected
Some vessels began changing course and dozens of ships were still en route to the waterway, according to the data firm Refinitiv.
A prolonged closure of the crucial waterway would cause delays in the global shipment chain. It is is particularly crucial for transporting oil. The closure could affect oil and gas shipments to Europe from the Middle East.
Apparently anticipating long delays, the owners of the stuck vessel diverted a sister ship, the Ever Greet, on a course around Africa instead.
Others also are being diverted. The liquid natural gas carrier Pan Americas changed course in the mid-Atlantic, now aiming south to go around the southern tip of Africa, according to satellite data from MarineTraffic.com.
The US Navy’s Fifth Fleet, which operates in the Red Sea, say a number of shipping companies have reached out to them in the last two days about security in the region amid fears they could be attacked.
Zhao Qing-feng, office manager of the China Shipowners’ Association in Shanghai, told the Financial Times that vessels choosing to go the African route will have to take on additional security staff to ensure they are safe.
Meanwhile Willy Lin, chair of the Hong Kong Shippers’ Council, said an international coalition of naval warships might have to be brought in to protect cargo vessels if the crisis drags out.
The Ever Given was involved in an accident in northern Germany in 2019, when it ran into a small ferry moored on the Elbe River in Hamburg. No passengers were on the ferry at the time and there were no injuries, but it was seriously damaged.
Canal workers are attempting to dig out sand from around the bow of the ship which is embedded in the eastern wall of the canal, and may have to dig tens of feet to allow the ship to refloat. Meanwhile tugboats and dredgers are working at the rear of the vessel to free the stern against the western wall. If those efforts fail, specialist cranes will have to come in to help remove some of the cargo – with containers weighing up to 33 tons each
Another image, taken by a Russian satellite, exposes the scale of the engineering challenge posed by the stuck Ever Given, which is easily visible (left) even when compared to neighbouring towns
A satellite image taken above the Gulf of Suez where it leads into the Suez Canal (top left) shows at least 50 large ships at anchor (right) as they wait for a stricken container ship to be freed from where it has lodged in the narrow waterway
There are fears goods such as washing machines, car parts and toys which are commonly imported from China and other Asian trading partners could be in short supply as cargo ships destined for Europe remain stuck in the bottleneck
Hamburg prosecutors opened an investigation of the Ever Given’s captain and pilot on suspicion of endangering shipping traffic, but shelved it in 2020 for lack of evidence, spokeswoman Liddy Oechtering said.
The Ever Given, built in 2018 with a length of nearly 400 meters, or a quarter of a mile, and a width of 193 feet, is among the largest cargo ships in the world.
It can carry some 20,000 containers at a time. It previously had been at ports in China before heading toward Rotterdam in the Netherlands.
Opened in 1869, the Suez Canal provides a crucial link for oil, natural gas and cargo. It also remains one of Egypt’s top foreign currency earners.
In 2015, the government of President Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi completed a major expansion of the canal, allowing it to accommodate the world’s largest vessels.
Why is the Suez Canal so important?
The Suez canal, which is around 120 miles long links the Persian Gulf and the Mediterranean and is the shortest shipping route between the Atlantic and the Indian Ocean.
Before the canal, shipping from Europe either had to go overland or risk going around Cape Horn and the South Atlantic.
In April 1859, construction of the canal officially begins, much of the work financed by France.
It was opened for navigation on November 17, 1869 for vessels from all countries, although the British government later wanted to have an armed force in the area to protect shipping interests having picked up a 44 per cent stake in the canal in 1875.
The Suez Canal links the Red Sea and the Mediterranean providing a short cut from the Indian Ocean to the Atlantic
From then, while nominally owned by Egypt, the canal was run by Britain and France until its until its nationalisation in 1956 .
The nationalisation by Nasser saw Britain and France launched an abortive and humiliating bid to recapture the vital waterway.
The canal was shut briefly following the attempted invasion.
However, in 1967 the canal was shut for eight years following the Six Day war with Israel.
Due to the instability in the region, the canal remained closed until 1975 – its longest ever closure, as the waterway had been mined and some vessels had been sunk in the main channel.
The Suez Canal is actually the first canal that directly links the Mediterranean Sea to the Red Sea.
In 2015 a new section of the canal opened, allowing vessels to traverse the waterway in both directions at the same time.
Future plans will see the two-lane system extended across the entire network- doubling current capacity of the canal.
The largest cargo vessels pay more than £180,000 in tolls to traverse the canal.
On average about 40-50 cargo vessels use the canal on a daily basis in a trip that takes around 11 hours, as speed along the waterway is limited to about 9kts to prevent the banks of the canal getting washed away.
Along the canal there are emergency mooring slots so vessels can pull over if they are suffering a mechanical issue.
When the canal first opened, the channel was approximately 26 feet deep and 72 feet wide at the bottom. The surface was between 200 and 300 feet wide to allow ships to pass.
By the 1960s, dredging of the canal increased the depth to 40 feet and widened the waterway to allow larger vessels.
Now, the minimum depth of the canal is 66feet, though this is been increased to 72 feet – allowing even larger vessels.