Event: Operational accident/Canal obstruction, 2021

In March 2021, Port Said faced a one-week disruption caused by the blockage of a large container vessel in the Suez Canal.8 A Japanese-owned container vessel (Ever Given) with a capacity of over 21,000 TEU blocked the Suez Canal for seven days.

Causes and impact

The large vessel size, as well as a fully loaded ship (high profile to wind), was the main cause of the incident. However, several factors (Safety4Sea, 2021), amplified the disruption, included: (i) poor visibility and high winds due to a sandstorm; (ii) the complexity of rescue operations involving a large vessel in a narrow channel (Yee V., 2021); and (iii) the limited size of the canal, even though it had been widened in 2015.

Maritime traffic passing through the Suez Canal was severely interrupted, with 367 vessels blocked in the canal by the end of the rescue phase (Leonard M., 2021). Not only was the impact on global supply chains significant but Allianz estimated that the container ship blocking the Suez Canal could cost global trade $6-10 billion a week (Gladstone R., 2021).

Port Said continued to experience congestion for days after the rescue and further congestions were seen in next-destination European ports, mostly Rotterdam and Antwerp, for an additional three months. The shipping industry increased its blank sailings, and some vessels were re-routed via the Cape of Good Hope. As a result, lead times and container shortages increased, while delays in the delivery of goods, especially for semiconductors, worsened. The cost of the rescue operations faced by the state-owned Suez Canal authority totaled $1 billion.

Response and mitigation measures9

The prompt cooperation between the government, the canal authority and the shipping industry enabled the rescue operations to last just over a week. Responses to the event included: (i) the re-opening an older section of the Suez Canal to ease the traffic jam in the waterway while rescue operations were on-going; (ii) promptly engaging skilled firms and equipment for salvage operations, in close cooperation with the Canal Authority; and (iii) avoiding further congestion with proper communication with major carriers, which temporarily modified their routes.

Lessons learned and good practice

  • Develop and implement strategic plans to adapt infrastructure and superstructure capacity so that ports and maritime passages are better prepared to handle the shipping and logistics of today and the future (e.g. ultra-large vessels, autonomous vessels)
  • Expand gate handling capacity and establish stronger partnerships between ports and carriers to prevent and mitigate risks.
  • Investment in digital solutions, such as: (i) remote robotic controlling and mooring systems; (ii) automated container operations management; (iii) early warning systems; and (iv) enhanced planning of vessel schedules moving through the Canal.
9This section also draws upon Labrut M. (2021).