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The open wounds of the 'Ever Given', the 'stranded whale' that jammed global trade


Two years after one of the largest container ships blocked the Suez Canal for six days, the controversy persists: a company that helped rescue it asks for more money, and other affected shipping companies demand compensation

They call them the

big boys

-big boys-, and they are right.

Those who have never been on board have a hard time getting an idea of ​​the dimensions of these ships, often compared to floating skyscrapers.


Ever Given,

With its 400 meters in length and 59 in width - the Empire State Building measures 382 meters - it is one of them, surely the most famous.

And not for anything I can brag about.

Two years ago, the image of him stranded for six days in the Suez Canal took over news and front pages.

And he dismantled the certainties about the infallibility of globalization: a single blockage in one of the great commercial arteries could be enough to cause serious supply problems.

"It's like a beached whale," said Peter Berdowski, CEO of Boskalis, owner of SMIT, a Dutch salvage company that will be key in the operation to refloat the mega-ship.

Two years after making every effort to free it from Egyptian mud, the company is still in court in London against the Japanese Shoei Kisen Kaisha, owner of the boat, from which it claims more money.

It is not the only open wound: the Danish shipping company Maersk asks for 40 million for the delays caused to its container ships, forced to wait for days in a queue where 372 ships on both sides of the channel came to crowd, at the worst of the crisis. which concentrates more than 10% of global maritime trade.

Between 80 and 90% of the goods traded in the world move by sea.

The sector is probably one of the most unknown and undervalued due to its own idiosyncrasy: the oceans are often a parallel, isolated and distant world, to which not much attention is paid because it does not get in the way of the daily life of citizens.

However, without it, globalization would be different: it is much cheaper than air transport, so it helps to make everything we have at home cheaper.

We began to be more aware of all this when the

Ever Given

it blocked the passage of the enormous flow of goods that crosses the Suez Canal from the Red Sea to the Mediterranean and vice versa towards Europe, the Middle East or Asia.

The numbers were almost incomprehensible.

There was talk of losses of 400 million per hour, 10,000 million per day.

With those amounts of money at stake, the rescuers worked under enormous pressure.

The Dutch company SMIT calculates that every year it carries out around 50 operations, but many of them nobody finds out about, because they take place in less traveled areas and do not have as much economic or environmental impact.

Others, such as the shipwreck of the Costa Concordia cruise ship in 2012, where they were also present, do reach the general public due to their enormous human cost —32 deaths—, the spectacular image of the capsized ship and the negligence of its sadly famous captain, Francesco Schettino. , later sentenced to 16 years in prison.

In the case of the

Ever Given

, en route from Malaysia to Rotterdam, strong winds, over 40 knots in some sections, unleashed sandstorms that blew the ship off course at 7:40 a.m. on March 23.

Though most can traverse without difficulty, the Suez Canal takes some skill if the weather isn't right: It's 1,000 feet wide, but only the middle is deep enough for a ship like the Ever Given, whose hull is


. 16 meters in the water.

The 23 Indian crew members are unharmed, so everything is focused on the economic side: hundreds of millions vanish with each passing hour.

There are consumers waiting for their furniture, automakers waiting for their chips, supermarkets for their food, or still oil that should be on its way to meet energy needs.

No one knows exactly how long it will take.

At first, the Suez Canal Authority thinks it will be a matter of hours.

Then, the Dutch rescuers do not rule out that it lasts for weeks.

In this scenario of uncertainty, the shipping companies have to decide between two options that are not easy: either leave their ships there and risk the release being prolonged due to the impatience of their customers;

or take a long detour south around the Cape of Good Hope.

It is easy to take an alternative road if a truck has an accident, but here the alternative route forces you to take a detour of 7,000 kilometers”, can be read in the book

The Ever Given Rescue

, edited by Boskalis to explain the inside story of how it happened. all.

From the German shipping company Hapag-Lloyd, the fifth largest in the world, they explain to this newspaper how they faced the crisis.

“We had less than a dozen ships stuck in traffic and we diverted some of them around the Cape of Good Hope.

Like the entire industry, we saw delays in the Far East, India-Europe/US and Middle East-Mediterranean trade, and dealt with port congestion as ships arrived at ports around the same time.”

The fact that the rescuers captured in an 80 page paper publication how intense the rescue was from the inside gives an idea of ​​the company's pride in helping to unblock the

Ever Given


The story is addictive at times.

Several complementary plans came to be on the table: use heavy tugs and support ships to get it out;

use dredging machinery to remove sand from the bow;

or unload with a crane 600 containers of the 18,350 that she carries and remove ballast water so that, by reducing the weight, the ship floats.

Other alternatives, such as emptying the fuel tank, were ruled out because there were no places to store it.


At five minutes past three in the afternoon of March 29, 2021, the

Ever Given

begins to move.

The force of the tides, the tugboats pulling it at full power, and the action of the suction dredger, which has cleared a huge amount of land around the ship, finally manage to free it.

Traffic is restored, although the

Ever Given

you will still go 100 days without sailing.

The time it takes for the Japanese owners of the ship to reach an agreement with the Suez Canal Authority on the compensation that it must pay.

At first they claim 755 million, but that amount is decreasing until it remains at 465 million, the last to transcend.

There are many interests at stake, and many affected, from the owners of the canal —who charge each vessel a toll, and if traffic is interrupted, so does their income— to the shipping companies that are delayed or forced to spend more fuel for other routes.

The Dutch rescuers have worked shoulder to shoulder with the Suez Canal Authority on the liberation, and although they have signed contracts where their fees are collected,

there is a variable part dependent on the result, which is what is now at stake in the London courts.

Industry sources point out that it is normal for these disputes to end up being resolved in arbitration or legal proceedings.

Emilio de la Cruz, general director for Western Europe and the Maghreb of the Danish shipping company Maersk, the second in the world, maintains that both the pandemic and the

Ever Given

plug have driven changes in global trade.

“Resilience and flexibility are being added to many supply chains, even if it comes at a cost.

The priority is more of a “just in case” approach rather than “just in time and as cheaply as possible”.

There is a tendency to reduce the number of logistics providers in order to react better and faster in the event of a disruption”, he says.

The Suez Canal Authority has not stood idly by either.

So that nightmares like

Ever Given 's are not repeated

, has been working on works for more than a year and a half to deepen the southern section of the road and lengthen a second parallel channel built in 2014.

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Source: elparis

All business articles on 2023-03-28

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