Team ulaunch sheds light on all that went down in the Suez Canal and more.
What has happened?
A massive cargo container ship called Ever Given got stuck and created the world’s heaviest traffic jam in Egypt’s Suez Canal. On the way to the port of Rotterdam in the Netherlands, the 224,000-ton, the 400-metre-long vessel was knocked off course. Operated by the Taiwan-based firm Evergreen and sailing under a Panama flag, Ever Given became jammed diagonally near the southern end of the canal on 23 March 2021.
Why did the ship get stuck?
As per its owners, the giant ship has lost the ability to steer amid high winds and a dust storm. The winds and a sandstorm caused low visibility and poor navigation, which resulted in it getting stuck in the shallow mud. However, the chairman of Egypt’s Suez Canal Authority later speculated that the main reasons may have been associated with technical or human errors.
How was the ship freed?
Following an around-the-clock international effort to reopen the global shipping lane, the ship was re-floated after 6 days of wedging. There is a strong sense of achievement since the experts had warned that it might take weeks.
Dutch salvage company Boskalis sent in a specialist team, SMIT Salvage Paperen, and 11 harbour tugs and 2 powerful seagoing tugs were deployed. Digging and tugs pushed and pulled it into the centre of the waterway. Dredgers were brought in to dig mud and sand from beneath the ends of the ship, removing 30,000 cubic metres of sand.
Incidents where a ship ran aground have occurred in the Suez Canal in the past.
- In 2017, a Japanese ship became wedged but was freed within hours.
- In 2016, near the German port of Hamburg, the massive CSCL Indian Ocean (container ship) ran aground and needed 12 tugs to set it free after 5 days.
Why is the Suez Canal important?
- The Suez Canal is a human-made sea-level waterway, running in Egypt to connect the Mediterranean Sea with the Red Sea and shipping lanes to Asia.
- Built in the year 1869, Suez Canal provides a major shortcut for ships moving between Asia and Europe.
- Being one of the heavily used shipping lanes in the world, its role is a cornerstone in international trade.
- As such, it was expanded in 2015 to enable ships to transit in both directions simultaneously.
- There were debates that the authorities failed to implement necessary mitigation measures such as locks or salinity barriers that would minimize the arrival of invasive species.
Impact of Expansion on Suez Canal
- Scientists say that since the opening up of the Suez Canal, invasive species have driven native marine life toward extinction and altered the Mediterranean ecosystem with potentially devastating consequences.
- Since Egypt doubled its capacity in 2015, the influx has further increased significantly.
- Historically, the Bitter Lakes of the Suez Canal acted as a hypersaline barrier that constrained marine species’ movements between the Red and Mediterranean seas. Over time, owing to human activities and the canal’s gradual enlargement, the lakes diluted and the natural barrier eroded.
- Of the many non-indigenous species that have entered since the construction of the canal some are noxious, poisonous, or venomous and pose clear threats to human health while others have destroyed the habitats of local creatures.
- Tourism, agriculture and fisheries of the local areas are put at risk.
- Fuel for this is the rising temperatures brought on by global warming and untreated ballast water discharged by cargo ships.
Environmental Impacts of the Growing Shipping Industry
The shipping industry is a key component of modern economies. Over the last century, there has been a substantial increase in shipping worldwide and according to future projections, this trend will continue. However, with this growth comes an increased likelihood for adverse impacts on not just marine fauna but also human health and activities. All of this is exacerbated by accelerating climate change as the oceans absorb increasing amounts of carbon dioxide.
- The grounding of a large commercial ship like such can cause massive damage to coral reef organisms and sea floors.
- More injuries to the reef may occur through secondary impacts during the process of removing the grounded vessel from the saltwater habitat.
While Ever Given might be free for now, the expansion of the shipping industry and consequent traffic in the Suez Canal do not bode well for the local ecosystem. We must take measures now to not compromise environmental interests for economic ones.
Researched and Written by Shruti, Team ulaunch.