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Post Stuck in the Suez Canal: Container Ship "Ever Given"
Created by John Eipper on 03/25/21 10:59 AM

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Stuck in the Suez Canal: Container Ship "Ever Given" (Edward Jajko, USA, 03/25/21 10:59 am)

Perhaps Eugenio Battaglia might comment on this. I was at the Canal only a couple of times, in the mid-1960s.

Giant Ship Blocking Suez Canal Could Take "Days, Even Weeks" to Free


JE comments:  Short of an actual sinking, this must be a captain's worst nightmare.  The Ever Given (Ever Clinging?) has blocked one of the world's most vital "choke points."  And with 20,000 shipping containers aboard, lightening the Given's load is no simple task.  Add together the cargoes on the other backed-up vessels, and we must be looking at tens of millions of dollars of losses per day.

Captain Battaglia, you know the Suez well.  Two questions:  what happened, and what should be done now?

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  • As the "Ever Given" Saga Continues, Memories of Crossing the Suez (Eugenio Battaglia, Italy 03/26/21 9:14 AM)
    The official version, which possibly is true, is that strong winds pushed the ship aground. The Ever Given is longer than the Suez Canal is wide, therefore the ship is blocking the canal, being practically aground both on the bow on one side of the canal and the stern on the opposite side. As far as I can see from the photos, the stern has been freed but the bow is still aground.

    These container ships are massive.  Their large cargo on deck acts like a giant sail.  They become very vulnerable if they catch a strong wind on their transverse beam. Maybe and very theoretically from sitting at one's desk in a safe place, we may tentatively think of some immediate action, both on the rudder to counteract against the turning force, united with a full ahead of the engine for a while.  This possibly could have stopped the turning, but you cannot properly judge if you were not there at the time.

    Never judge if you were not on the spot, is an old rule among seafarers.

    We may even say that if the weather forecast was expecting strong transverse winds, the Canal Authority should not have given the green light to the crossing of the Canal by such a huge ship, with her giant "sail" of containers.

    Crossing the Suez is a problem for all kinds of ships, as you should arrive within the required draft limitations but at the same time you should arrive with the maximum possible cargo, therefore until you have arrived just outside the Canal and have had a look at the actual draft and see that your calculations were correct, you are always very nervous.

    In the good old days when crossing the canal, Egyptian vendors would come on board selling anything from old magazines (if you have not read them they are new was their pitch), tourist stuff like Pyramids, Sphinxes, carpets, etc. One vendor was a "Magician" who was able to extract a baby chick from your shirt, then you had to buy the chicks. Once the pumpman bought two.  One, unfortunately, died having eaten some anti-cockroach poison but the other became the favorite of all crew, the chick became a wonderful rooster who was sleeping in the cabin of the pumpman and was resting on his knees when he was eating, he knew all the times for work or eating or coffee breaks. Fantastic when the pumpman debarked the rooster went with him and had a fantastic long life in a nice yard.  Someone later told me that he missed life at sea...

    Never did a vendor try to steal anything on board.  On the contrary, the Egyptians would sometimes even sell their wares on credit.

    Once a Second Mate got something without paying but had to return with another ship in the Suez Canal.  The same vendor recognized him even if he tried not to pass unnoticed. The Egyptian asked for his money and at first, the Second Mate tried not to remember. The Egyptian said, "You are very stupid and also the owner knows this, since you have been crossing through the Canal for a long time, always as the Second Mate and never promoted." The guy paid.

    JE comments: Aye aye, Captain! For those wondering why the Goodship WAIS didn't serve its usual breakfast fare at Six Bells, I am sorry to report that our website was down. Possibly it was blocked by the Ever Given...? 

    Fortunately I didn't have to call in tugboats, cranes, and earthmoving behemoths.  A simple e-mail to our IT Fixer, Roman Zhovtulya in Cupertino, did the job. Ahoy, Roman, and thank you!

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  • "Ever Given" and its Precursor: "Prinz Valdemar," 1926 (from Michael Frank) (John Eipper, USA 03/28/21 7:50 AM)
    Michael Frank writes:

    Blockage of the Suez Canal is delaying $9.6 billion per day of shipping, according to Bloomberg. But delay is only a down payment on the ultimate cost of the wreck. If your Toyota isn't delivered for a few weeks, that's not a costly disaster. But factories and refineries can't be turned on and off at will. They rely on a predictable inflow of raw materials and a predictable lift schedule for finished products. Shutting down and restarting something like a refinery, if that becomes necessary, is an expensive, disruptive process.

    This situation is not unprecedented. In 1926, Prinz Valdemar was an antiquated clipper ship which had spent three decades in trans-Atlantic and trans-Pacific trade. The superannuated vessel had been sold to interests in Florida, there to be reborn as a floating hotel. It was in Miami harbor, loaded with construction materials, when it ran aground in the ship channel. It's possible that unusual currents had shifted the sand bar, or perhaps the pilot made an error. The bow caught, the stern swung around, and a breeze caught the top-heavy rigging. The ship capsized, blocking the channel. It was stuck at a strategic choke point. A dredge attempted to widen the channel, to allow shipping to pass the wreck. But when a ship tried to round Prinz Valdemar, it also became stuck. This made it impossible for shipping to enter or leave the port of Miami. It took many weeks to refloat the wreck and restore the channel.

    1926 happened to be the peak of the Florida land bubble. Throughout Florida, land speculation and construction projects were supercharged by dreamer's capital. Miami became a popular tourist stop, and the tourists came with money to invest. Land rapidly changed hands in a chase for choice properties and real estate wealth. Speculators bought "water land"...underwater areas that might become shoreline as landfill operations progressed. The population of Florida grew rapidly, and the number of Florida absentee landowners grew still faster. There was no highway system as we know it today, and the railroads soon embargoed construction supplies because their rails, rolling stock and warehouses had become overwhelmed by heavy traffic. Maritime shipping buttressed the construction industry and the speculative mania.

    With Prinz Valdemar blocking the ship channel, shipments in and out of Miami became impossible. Tourist ships had to anchor offshore and ferry passengers to and from the beach on small craft. Reserves of construction materials were quickly consumed, with no means of resupply. The citrus crop rotted on the piers. Tourist traffic dried up, and there was less cash being tossed around. Visitors stranded on endless vacations clamored for transportation home. The harbor was blocked for six weeks. And then, just when business began to pick up, a powerful hurricane devastated the city as summer ended. It didn't take long for the bubble to pop. Projects slowed down, stopped, and were abandoned. Land prices collapsed.

    Recessions don't begin in the financial markets, they begin in the real economy. The end of the Florida boom took the pop out of US real estate. Fortunes were lost. Not only was the southeast confronting a new reality, the poison of falling real estate values began to seep north and west. In the Midwest, farmers and industrialists had grown fat feeding, rebuilding and resupplying Europe earlier in the decade. With global production increasing, prices for their products were already falling. Now land values began to slide. The blockage of the Miami ship channel may well have been the "black swan" event which presaged the market crash and depression (or maybe not).

    What will be the result of the Ever Given grounding? As Mark Twain said (when not misquoted), "History never repeats itself, but the Kaleidoscopic combinations of the pictured present often seem to be constructed out of the broken fragments of antique legends."

    JE comments:  Michael, you've shared the forgotten story of a massive "cascade" of economic devastation.  Could the Valdemar wreck have been the opening act of the Great Depression?  This sets a scary precedent for the Ever Given and its aftermath.

    As for the Ever Given, is it still stuck?  A purpose-built website gives you the update.  Answer:  Yes, it's still stuck, although a flotilla of tugboats has now shifted it 30 degrees. 


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