Suez Canal blockage: How cargo ships like Ever Given became so huge

The six-day halt of the Suez Canal by a megaship called Ever Given came to an end on March 29, when rescue teams used dredging and a tug boat to bring the ship back into operation.

The ability of a single vessel to block one of the world’s busiest shipping corridors, a traffic jam of hundreds of boats, sparked a debate about the ever-increasing size of the megaship, taking the crash of Ever Given as evidence They have just grown too big.

400 meters long, the Ever Given is actually one of the world’s largest 1% fleets. Its high-profile crash will result in a new wave of precautions to make the megaship safer, but it will also prompt the shipping industry to consider whether such huge ships actually do more harm than good.

Big boats

The size of container ships has been increasing for decades to carry more containers on each voyage. According to Allianz’s analysis, the number of 20-foot containers carried by ships has increased by 1,500% in the last 50 years.

One of the most significant size upgrades came when Maersk introduced its E-series in 2006, which could hold around 15,000 containers — doubling the capacity of the previous largest container ships.

In the 15 years since then, approximately 133 vessels with carrying capacities of 18,000 to 24,000 containers have been launched. They are classified as ultra large container ships – the largest boats in the world. The Ever Given is one such ship.

economies of scale

Megaships are particularly attractive to international shipping firms because they offer economies of scale: the larger the ship, the more efficient it is at transporting goods.

The Ever Given can carry 20,000 containers, while the so-called very large containerships can carry a maximum of 9,000 containers. Using just one vessel instead of two to carry the same load saves fuel, significantly reduces the cost of transportation per container, and reduces the ship’s environmental footprint.

When the megaship was first introduced, there were doubts about whether they would actually use their vast carrying capacity. But evidence suggests they do: Evert Given was allegedly carrying more than 18,000 containers when it fell into the Suez Canal. Unfortunately, carrying many containers also has its disadvantages.

Megaship downsides

The operation of megaships in limited waterways has already been shown to be difficult. Keeping them high with containers does not help: it can make it even harder for ships to catch and control air, which may have played a role in the grounding of the Ever Given.

When trapped in a storm in the open sea, the risk of losing containers over such vessels may also be high. According to recent analysis, at least five of the largest class of container ships lost containers during this year’s winter storm season in the Pacific.

Infrastructure is also struggling to cope with these large ships. According to a 2015 report, the expansion of ports, straits and canals is needed to make way for the new class of megaships.

The cost of such projects is high: the Panama Canal expansion ended in 2016 at a cost of more than $ 5 billion (£ 3.6 billion) to accommodate larger ships. In light of these structural concerns, there may be an economic argument against the expansion of the number or size of megaships in our seas.

Size for defect?

The cause of the crash of Eiver Given is under investigation, which should tell us to what extent its size was responsible. Depending on past events, strong winds, poor machinery, and even human error can be equally to blame.

My research at the Center for Marine Safety Research studies such incidents, trying to understand the hazards and risks that contribute to marine accidents. When operational ships get into trouble, we can learn from them to avoid recurring accidents.

If the size of Ever Given was to blame for its crash, you would expect other megashipes, who have been crossing the Suez Canal for years, to experience similar difficulties. But a quick check of accident statistics shows that there are only two or three similar incidents involving megaships in the canal every year – out of 19,000 annual crossings.

In most cases, these are minor accidents, which cause little disruption, and occur at such a low frequency that the accident of Ever Given should not be construed as evidence that container ships have become too large Huh.

But given that the consequences of the accident of Ever Given were so severe, new maritime safety measures will be put in place to avoid similar incidents in the future, such as ship design changes, improved pilot training, Tug boat use canal maintenance, autonomous guidance system and widening of waterways.

Despite the new safety measures, the accident of Eiver Given can be regarded as a “Black Swan” phenomenon: an unexpected one-off, rather than a sign of things to come.

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