By Segun Adekunle
On Tuesday 23rd of March 2021 a massive container vessel also called a mega ship MV “Evergiven” while transiting the Suez canal ran aground due to high winds, poor visibility amongst other factors. While this has caused the shipping trade billions of dollars, loss of huge man-hours, crazy Insurance claims and standstill in shipping trade between Europe and Asia. It remains a huge cause of concern that at this time and age a vessel can cause severe disruptions to a major shipping route.
In the first place, it will not be out of place to say that the maritime industry is amongst, if not the most regulated industry in the world. Various conventions and counter conventions, publications and adjustments are being churned out year after year just to maintain this very important aspect of international trade.
From my findings transiting the Suez canal requires the use of a pilot, a near perfect employment of BRM (Bridge Resource Management) amongst other standing procedures. A ship pilot is expected to be extensively trained, fit and focused for the very crucial task as this. On the bridge of a typical modern vessel like the “Evergiven” vessel lies a lot of navigational equipment which are I believe to be in good shape as the vessel is quite young and agile. She was actually built in 2018 to be precise. The radar onboard should have given both pilot and bridge crew a clear information on wind speed, direction, tide and vessel tolerance to any of these, but I want to believe that these were not adhered to. Sailing A vessel of this magnitude total length (Length Overall) of 400m along a channel of water with a requires adequate care, expertise and observation of the weather situation.
Since it is a man-made or man adjusted body of water why did the captain or pilot not drop vessel anchor when they observed the vessel to be drifting off-course. Dropping vessel anchor in a water that is only 20meters deep might have save not only billions of dollars being lost today but also the grounding of a mega ship on a very busy shipping route.
A typical vessel has what is called center of gravity. This is the point at which winds or other external forces can act on her. The question a professional will ask again is what is the center of gravity of this vessel? Was it above or below the waterline? If below which it should be for safety reasons, what was the distance between this point and the waterline. Another factor we need to observe critically is the amount of free board this vessel was designed to take in addition to her payload. My findings reveal that when fully loaded, the vessel is about 14 storeys high above the water line. If this is the case then the builders leaves much to be desired. Guiding such a monster in the face of daunting sea winds and adverse weather conditions can be an uphill task if not catastrophic. Though adequate care must have been taken to ensure there is enough ballast to stabilize the ship, we cannot rule out the fact that the higher the ship more vulnerable she is to adverse winds and weather conditions. The design of the vessel may be flawed abinitio and this should be properly observed subsequently. Having a freeboard of over 20 meters excluding the payload makes sailing in open sea and congested waters hard and extra care need to be be taken in order not to violate the COLREG convention amongst others.
With the combined efforts of dredgers, tugs, tow cables amongst others the vessel was finally refloated but alot still needs to be done subsequently to avoid shipping and trade disruptions. Amongst the many suggestion are the following:
1. While suggesting that a sister Canal be constructed may be a wishful thinking, ensuring that vessel transiting the Suez canal have at least one tug escort may help prevent incidents like this one this is however dependent on the vessel size and length.
2. Issuing a speed limit which vessels must comply with while in the canal may also help against sudden grounding of vessels in the canal. It is important to note that one of the factors responsible for the grounding of the “Evergiven” vessel was over speeding in addition to the daunting opposing tides and winds.
3. Another measure that can be taken is to do a pre-passage audit on vessels that want to transit the canal before entrance. However this can be time consuming as every second in shipping matters a lot, but a pre-passage report on the state of machineries onboard will help as this will help the canal authorities know the necessary preecautions to take before any vessel enters the channel way.
4. Authorities should also work on their response time to emergencies that affects the Suez canal.
5. Emphatic use of canal sidelights lights at night will also help ships crew make informed decisions while navigating during the night.
6. The weather situation for every passage day should also be observed so as not to be caught up in surprise or in no man’s land while in the passage way.
7. There is need to do an extensive inspection of the ship’s hull integrity after this refloating. This is because pushing out almost 2,000,000 kg structure after beaching may have compromised some of the hull structure. Though I want to believe that the tugs must have pulled from designated tow points we can not rule out the fact that this was an unusual salvage operation.
In summary the maritime industry needs to put alot more expertise in ship building and crew training to avoid situations like this. Shipping is the mitochondron of world trade and incidents like this can only mean one thing; global disruptions in international trade and supply chain, rising cost of items as demand outweighs supply, fatigue and overreaction on the part of queueing traffic of vessel amongst others.
Segun Adekunle is a maritime professional. He writes from Lagos; Nigeria.