CEO Boskalis: Refloating container ship Ever Given can take days to weeks

While ten tugboats are still trying to free the container ship Ever Given, which grounded in the Suez Canal on Tuesday morning, Boskalis has sent a team to assist in the operation. In Dutch TV programme Nieuwsuur, Boskalis CEO Peter Berdowski said the operation could take days to weeks. In the meantime, the ship owner may well face millions in claims.

The Ever Given has a length of 400 metres and a weight of 224,000 tonnes. The shortest shipping route between Asia and Europe has been blocked since Tuesday morning 23 March after the huge ship ran aground in the southern part of the Suez Canal. It covers the entire width of the waterway with a large congestion of other vessels as a result.

Also read: Huge container ship blocks Suez Canal

The 193-kilometre Suez Canal is one of the busiest shipping lanes in the world, accounting for about twelve per cent of global trade. Around one million barrels of oil and a large quantity of liquefied natural gas (LNG) are also transported through the canal every day.

When the Suez Canal is closed, ships between Asia and Europe have to detour via the Cape of Good Hope, which can add weeks to their journey time. Oil tankers from the Middle East also make frequent use of the Suez Canal.

Berdowksi: Water, oil and containers may need to be removed

The Dutch company Smit Salvage, a subsidiary of dredging and maritime services provider Boskalis, has been called in to help salvage the ship. A team of ten people has been sent to Egypt to help with the operation.

In such cases, ‘you really have to do calculations to understand how firmly the ship is on the ground, and how much force you can apply without damaging it,’ said a spokesman.

In Nieuwsuur on Wednesday evening, Berdowski called the attempts undertaken on site so far ‘a brave attempt’. However, he explained that it will be a difficult operation: ‘You are dealing with a shipping lane in the middle that is up to 25 metres deep, but pretty soon after that it goes to 15 metres, to 11 metres, and then even less towards the ends. The ship has a draught of 15.7 metres. Especially at the front, the ship lies a metre on the slope.’

This picture shows the bow of the ship sticking up as it is firmly stuck on the canal floor (by Instagram/Julianne Cona.

Due to the ship’s enormous weight, pulling it free is not really an option according to Berdowski. According to him, water and oil can be removed from the ship to lose as much weight as possible. Containers can also be removed from the ship, and as a further option dredging can be carried out.

Berdowski: ‘You can then undermine the sandbank on which the ship is resting as it were. The combination of removing some of the weight, ensuring there is enough pulling force in the form of tugboats and dredging could remove enough of the friction to pull the ship free.’

He concludes that ‘the more firmly the ship is stuck, the longer the operation will take. It can take days to weeks. Also think about bringing in all the equipment we need, which is not just around the corner.’

Sudden strong wind

Last night, the Suez Canal Authority (SCA) stated work to free the ship would continue well into the night, weather permitting. Earlier it was incorrectly reported that the ship had refloated.

Also read: Stranded container ship in Suez Canal yet to be refloated

According to Bernhard Schulte Shipmanagement (BSM), the ship’s technical manager, the ship’s crew is safe and there are no reports of pollution. According to BSM, the ship is owned by Japan’s Shoei Kisen KK, but declined to provide further details. Shoei Kisen KK could not be reached for comment at this time.

Taiwan’s Evergreen Marine, which leases the vessel, said the owner had said the vessel was ‘probably hit by a sudden strong wind, causing the hull to veer off course and accidentally hit the bottom.’

‘Container ships have reached their limits’

In Nieuwsuur, port researcher and regular SWZ contributor Bart Kuipers says the container chain is vulnerable. Forty per cent of the container ships that call at Rotterdam travel through the Suez Canal. This means the ‘supply chain is now blocked’. And where do you leave all the delayed ships once they do reach the port? ‘This will result in congestion in the port and handling problems.’

He adds that the situation with the Ever Given marks a much wider problem. ‘The ships have become too big and too fully loaded. Now, a ship has grounded, others have lost containers at sea. These accidents all result from the same problem. These ships simply operate at the limit or perhaps have already crossed it.’

Also read: Are container ships overloaded?

Millions in claims

The owner and insurers of the stranded ship in the Suez Canal can expect claims running into many millions of dollars, even if the ship is refloated quickly. Sources in the sector have told Reuters.

The owner of the ship, the Japanese company Shoei Kisen KK, and its insurers could face claims from the SCA for loss of earnings. Claims also appear to be in the pipeline from other vessels whose passage has been disrupted, according to insurers and brokers.

Container ships of this size are likely to be insured for USD 100 million to USD 140 million for hull and machinery damage. The Ever Given would be insured on the Japanese market. The costs of the salvage operation are covered by the hull and machinery insurer.

Source (in part): ANP

Picture (top) by Suez Canal Authority.

Author: Mariska Buitendijk

Mariska Buitendijk is one of SWZ|Maritime's journalists as well as the magazine's copy editor.