The Suez Canal is being widened. Will it be enough to stop another ship getting caught?

In an effort to keep away from a repeat of the occasion, in mid-May, the Suez Canal Authority (SCA) announced it had began dredging work to widen and deepen the southern a part of the canal the place the Ever Given was jammed.

The 30-kilometer-long space will be widened by 40 meters (131 ft) to the east and deepened to 72 ft, up from 66 ft, in accordance to the SCA. Plans additionally embody extending the second lane close to the Great Bitter Lake, which opened in 2015, by 10 kilometers (6 miles) — permitting two-way visitors alongside an 82 kilometer (51 mile) stretch.

The work is supposed for “maximizing the canal’s efficiency and shortening the vessels’ transit time, as well as raising the navigation safety,” mentioned a press launch from the SCA. But there are nonetheless questions as to whether or not this can be enough to forestall future blockages.

“The widening of the canal is a smart move,” Sal Mercogliano, a maritime historian at Campbell University in North Carolina, tells CNN. “The question that I have is if you widen the canal, then will vessel operators make their vessels bigger?”

Ship measurement

Over the previous 50 years the container carrying capability of the most important ships has increased by 1,500%, and doubled over the previous decade alone, in accordance to transport insurer Allianz Global Corporate and Speciality.

The largest ships can carry up to 24,000 containers and measure over 200 ft at their widest level — wider than an ordinary American soccer discipline. The Ever Given — which might maintain up to 20,000 containers however was solely carrying 18,000 on the time of grounding — is within the high 1% globally when it comes to vessel measurement, measuring 400 meters (1,312 ft) lengthy and 59 meters (194 ft) vast.

Shipping corporations argue that larger ships are extra environment friendly at carrying giant volumes of cargo throughout the globe and — in regular circumstances — they’re in a position to go by the Suez.

But “it’s a very narrow margin of error,” says Mercogliano. If there are sturdy winds — as within the case of the Ever Given — or unhealthy visibility, ultra-large vessels danger getting caught.

The case of the Ever Given illustrated the potential repercussions of a blockage. At the time, transport information journal Lloyd’s List estimated the ship was holding up roughly $9.6 billion of products every day. The Suez Canal handles about 12% of global trade, with round 19,000 ships passing by every year.

The extension proposed by the SCA will assist scale back the chance of ships getting caught, however it won’t erase it, says Ioannis Theotokas, a professor within the Department of Maritime Studies on the University of Piraeus, Greece.

“It will never be enough unless a second lane is opened in the southern part,” he tells CNN. But he believes that container ships are unlikely to get any larger, so additional widenings might not be mandatory.

“Increasing the size of ships caused extensive investments in ports to support them. A further increase would require further investments,” which aren’t available, he provides.

Maersk, the world’s largest container shipping line, instructed CNN it welcomes plans to widen and deepen the southern a part of the passage.

“Increasing the stretch with double lane will enable more vessels to transit a vital canal that receives about 10% of the world trade flows. The deepening and widening will reduce the risk of groundings,” says Aslak Ross, head of HSE & Marine Standards at A.P. Moller-Maersk.

He provides that “the current vessel size matches our network demand and (the company) has no plans for transiting larger vessels than what we do today through Suez Canal.”

Future routes

However, the Ever Given incident did immediate dialogue of other routes. The canal’s strategic position — connecting the Mediterranean to the Red Sea and providing the shortest sea route between Europe and Asia — is key to its affect.

Without the Suez, shipments between the 2 continents would have to journey across the Cape of Good Hope on the southern tip of Africa. Some transport corporations opted for this route whereas the Suez was blocked, regardless of it taking more than double the time.
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“It’s no coincidence that soon after the Ever Given incident, Russia made comments of the attractiveness of alternative routes, namely the Northern Sea Route,” says Theotokas. That route runs alongside the Arctic coast of Russia, from the Kara Sea to the Bering Strait.

An official from the nuclear agency Rosatom, which is accountable for the event of the route, instructed a Russian news agency that “the Suez precedent has shown how fragile any route between Europe and Asia is,” and urged for growth of other routes just like the Northern Sea Route.
Soon after these feedback, transport company MSC, the world’s second largest container line, doubled down on its dedication to keep away from the Northern Sea Route on environmental grounds. Arctic transport may improve air pollution and contribute to melting sea ice.

Theotokas believes the position of the Suez as a world commerce route will stay sturdy.

“Shipping companies are always prepared to handle risk such as Ever Given,” he says. The SCA’s extension will simply make them extra snug in doing so.

“The widening of the canal will make it easier for salvage operations … even if it does not erase the risk of repeating the incident,” he says.

This story has been up to date with remark from A.P. Moller-Maersk.

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