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Suez Canal Plans for Expansion

Friday, May 21, 2021

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Last week, head of the Suez Canal Authority, Lt. Gen. Osama Rabie announced plans to widen and deepen the southern part of the Suez Canal.

The decision follows a several-day ordeal in March, when the Ever Given, a Panama-flagged, Japanese-owned massive container ship, ran aground in a single-lane stretch of the canal, disrupting global shipments.

What Happened

On March 23, the Ever Given ran aground while traveling northbound through Egypt’s Suez Canal to the Mediterranean from the Red Sea, blocking a crucial waterway used by roughly 10% of world trade flows. The waterway is particularly crucial for the transport of oil.

Measuring 120 miles long, 79 feet deep and 673 feet wide, the Suez Canal can handle dozens of giant and even ultra-large container ships that are too big for the Panama Canal. In 2015, the canal was expanded for $8 billion to enable ships to transit in both directions simultaneously, but only in part of the waterway.

According to reports, the ship became wedged across the canal after experiencing a “blackout” during a dust storm in which wind gust reached up to 30 miles per hour. The ship is owned by Taiwan-based Evergreen Line and regularly carries cargo between Asia and Europe.

The vessel entered the canal some 45 minutes before it became stuck, moving at 12.8 knots (about 24 kph, 15 mph) just before the crash.

Images of the 220,000-ton, 400-meter-long (1,312 feet) ship after its displacement reveal that its bow was touching the eastern wall, while its stern appeared lodged against the western wall—an extraordinary event that’s been unheard of in the canal’s 150-year history—blocking the waterway for other container vessels to move in either direction.

However, to further explain how the incident might have occurred, Jamil Sayegh, a former captain and maritime law specialist with experience navigating the canal, suggested that due to the high winds, the containers above deck essentially acted as a vast sail, which is what caused the vessel to go off course. Although, Sayegh didn’t leave out human error as a potential factor, further explaining that ships traverse the canal in convoys and none of the vessels behind the Ever Given had run into similar troubles.

Sayegh also added that vessels traveling through the Suez are obligated to use Egyptian pilots to help them navigate the stretch, however, a ship’s captain retains ultimate authority.

The ship’s technical manager, Bernhard Schulte Shipmanagement, reported that all 20 onboard crew members were safe and accounted for, with no injuries or pollution reported.

In an effort to dislodge the vessel, the Suez Canal Authority deployed eight tugboats to refloat the ship. Additionally, backhoes and other heavy equipment were also deployed to dig out the sand bank around the vessel’s bow in an effort to free it.

Two professional rescue teams, Smit Salvage from The Netherlands and Nippon Salvage from Japan were also deployed to assist local authorities in designing a more effective plan to refloat the vessel. Evergreen Marine Corp said the teams were appointed by the shipowner and would work alongside the captain and the Suez Canal Authority.

In shipping industry resources cited by Reuters, more than 20 oil tankers were affected by the disruptions. Additionally, Sayegh added that in delaying a vessel within the Suez anchorage, ship owners lose roughly $60,000 per day or $3,000-4,000 per hour.

Following the incident, the SCA claimed losses totaling $916 million.

Planned Expansion

During a televised ceremony in the canal’s city of Ismailia on May 11, Rabie announced plans to widen the Suez Canal’s southernmost stretch by about 40 meters to the east, on the side of the Sinai Peninsula, as well as deepen the canal to 72 feet, an increase from its current 66-foot depth.

Plans for the expansion also involve a 10-kilometer-long extension of a second lane of the waterway that opened in 2015, bringing the double-lane stretch of the canal to 60 miles.

The portion of the canal being rehabilitated is 18 miles long.

Egyptian President Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi and top government officials attended the ceremony.


Tagged categories: AF; EMEA (Europe, Middle East and Africa); Middle East; Program/Project Management; Project Management; Ships and vessels; Shipyards; Transportation; Upcoming projects

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