The Suez Canal is being widened. Will this be enough to stop another ship from being trapped?

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In an effort to avoid a recurrence of the incident, the Suez Canal Authority (SCA) in mid-May Announced It started dredging to widen and deepen the southern side of the canal, where the Ever Given Jam was.

According to the SCA, the 30-km-long area will be 40 meters (131 ft) wide and widened from 66 feet to 72 feet deep in the east. Plans also include extending the second lane near the Great Bitter Lake, which opened up to 10 kilometers (6 mi) in 2015 – allowing 82 kilometers (51 mi) of two-way traffic.

A SCA press release stated that the work is to “maximize the efficiency of the canal and minimize the transit time of ships as well as enhance navigation safety”. But there are still questions as to whether this will be enough to prevent future blockages.

“The widening of the canal is a clever move,” Sal Mercogliano, a marine historian at Campbell University in North Carolina, told CNN. “My question is that if you widen the canal, will the ship operators make their ships bigger?”

Ship size

The largest ships have a container carrying capacity in the last 50 years Increased by 1,500%According to shipping insurer Allianz Global Corporate & Specialty, and has doubled in the last decade alone.

The largest ships can carry up to 24,000 containers and measure more than 200 feet at their widest point – wider than a standard American football field. The Ever Given – which can hold 20,000 containers, but was carrying only 14,000 at the time of grounding – is in the top 1% globally in terms of vessel size, measuring 600 meters (1,312 feet) ) Is long and 59 meters (1979). feet wide.

Shipping companies argue that larger ships are more efficient at carrying large amounts of cargo around the world and – under normal circumstances – they are able to pass through Suez.

But “it’s a very narrow margin of error,” Mercogliano says. If there is strong winds – as in the case of the Ever Give – or poor visibility, ultra-large ships are at risk of getting stuck.

The case of Evert Given delineated the possible consequences of the interruption. At the time, the shipping news magazine Lloyds List estimated that the ship had almost stalled. $ 9.6 billion Of goods every day. Suez handles about the canal 12% of global trade, With around 19,000 ships Every year is passing.

The expansion proposed by the SCA will help reduce the risk of shipwreck, but it will not erase it, says Professor Ioannis Theotokas of the Department of Marine Studies at the University of Piraeus, Greece.

“It will never be enough until a second lane is opened in the southern part,” he tells CNN. But they believe that container ships are unlikely to be large, so further widening may not be required.

“The increase in the size of ships led to widespread investment in ports to support them. A further increase would require further investment,” which are not readily available, he adds.

Myx, World’s Largest Container Shipping LineTold CNN that it welcomed plans to widen and deepen the southern section of the route.

Aslac Ross, head of the HSE and Marine Standards, says, “Increasing the stretch along the double lane will help more ships to cross an important canal that receives about 10% of world trade flow. Grounding risk from depth and widening Will be reduced. ” A.P. Möller-Maersk.

He adds that “the size of the existing vessel matches the demand of our network and (the company) has no plans to move larger vessels through the Suez Canal than it is today.”

Future paths

However, the Ever Give incident quickly led to a discussion of alternative routes. The canal’s strategic position – connecting the Mediterranean Sea to the Red Sea and providing the shortest sea route between Europe and Asia – is key to its impact.

Without Suez, shipments between the two continents would have to travel around the Cape of Good Hope at the southern tip of Africa. Some shipping companies chose this route, even though Suez was blocked, despite More than double.
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“It is no coincidence that soon after the Ever Given event, Russia commented on the attraction of alternative routes, namely the Northern Sea Route,” says Theotokas. The route runs along the Arctic coast of Russia from the Kara Sea to the Bering Strait.

An official of the nuclear firm Rosatom, who is in charge of the development of the route, told a Russian news agency That “Suez’s precedent has shown how fragile any route between Europe and Asia is,” and urged the development of alternative routes such as the Northern Sea Route.
Soon after these comments, shipping company MSC, the world’s second largest container line, Doubled On its commitment to avoid the Northern Seaway on environmental grounds. Arctic shipping may increase pollution and contribute to melting sea ice.

Theotokas believes that Suez’s position as a world trade route will remain strong.

“Shipping companies are always ready to handle risk like Ever Give,” he says. The expansion of SCA will make them more comfortable doing so.

He says, “The widening of the canal will ease rescue operations … even if it does not eliminate the risk of recurrence of the incident.”

This story has been updated with a comment from AP Moller-Maersk.

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