Suez Canal blockage, and should a new diversionary canal be built?

PTR 444

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The stranded Ever Given mega-container ship in the Suez Canal is holding up an estimated $9.6bn (£7bn) of goods each day, according to shipping data.
This works out at $400m an hour in trade along the waterway which is a vital passageway between east and west.
Data from shipping expert Lloyd's List values the canal's westbound traffic at roughly $5.1bn a day, and eastbound daily traffic at around $4.5bn.
Despite efforts to free the ship, it could take weeks to remove experts say.
Considering that the Suez Canal is the only direct route between major European and Asian ports, it’s no wonder this is going to have further implications on an already battered global economy. Yes, ships can sail via the southern tip of Africa or around the north of Russia but these routes are way way longer, while the latter is highly prone to freezing in winter.

With a global economy more connected than ever before, it’s amazing to think that global trade relies on a single passage through the Middle East. Now imagine what it would be like if Plymouth was the number one container port for the UK instead of Felixstowe and there was another major storm washing away the line at Dawlish. In this scenario, you’d think that it would be necessary to build the Dawlish avoiding line as it would avoid disruption to the national economy, so in the same principle, is now the time to build a so-called Suez Avoiding Canal?
 
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Ianno87

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The canal has existed for over 150 years; is this the first time a total blockage has occurred, outside of (presumably) times of war?
 

ainsworth74

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is now the time to build a so-called Suez Avoiding Canal

They'd be better of just adding a second channel to the whole canal. If the Ever Given had had its incident about thirty miles north it would have blocked one channel but at that section of the canal there are two so there would clearly be disruption due to reduced capacity but some ships would still be able to transit. They'd therefore be better just adding second channels from the Red Sea to the Great Bitter lake and from El-Qantara to Port Said. I'm not sure that there really is anything else you can do. There's no other really viable location to build a full on diversionary canal. You might be able to squeak something in up near Aqaba but the other end of that is, er, the Gaza Strip which I'm sure won't be a problem. Plus it's 130 miles as the crow flies versus the 90 miles of the Suez canal. And I think there's various hills and other terrain which would require either humongous cuttings or giant locks. It would be the mega engineering project to end all mega engineering projects. Far easier to just make two channels on the Suez Canal throughout.
 

Bletchleyite

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There is a second channel on most of it - look on Google Maps. Should a second channel be built on all of it? I guess it would make sense to do that progressively like dualling a motorway, but this is to be fair the first time I ever heard of this happening, and in some ways that would still be vulnerable to e.g. political upheaval.
 

swt_passenger

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Now imagine what it would be like if Plymouth was the number one container port for the UK instead of Felixstowe and there was another major storm washing away the line at Dawlish. In this scenario, you’d think that it would be necessary to build the Dawlish avoiding line as it would avoid disruption to the national economy, so in the same principle, is now the time to build a so-called Suez Avoiding Canal?
I think this must possibly be a contender for the 2021 “most tenuous link between topics” prize...
 

LSWR Cavalier

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The Panama canals is an alternative.
Can ships that have already gone into the Suez canal execute three-point turns? Does such disruption happen frequently, without being reported?
 

Domh245

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The canal has existed for over 150 years; is this the first time a total blockage has occurred, outside of (presumably) times of war?

There was a 7 year blockage in the late 60s/early 70s as a result of an Egyptian/Israeli war, but other than that I think the Ever Green is only the second such blockage (excluding a grounding on it's inauguration!)

The Panama canals is an alternative.

Not quite sure how a canal across cental america helps ships going from Asia/Middle East to Europe?!
 

Bletchleyite

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Can ships that have already gone into the Suez canal execute three-point turns? Does such disruption happen frequently, without being reported?

Well, that one couldn't*. I'd imagine a shorter one could. It's not a lot different from a car being able to turn round on a single carriageway road but a lorry not.

* While the front has not yet fallen off and it is to be hoped it won't...
springs to mind :)
 
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swt_passenger

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There is a second channel on most of it - look on Google Maps. Should a second channel be built on all of it? I guess it would make sense to do that progressively like dualling a motorway, but this is to be fair the first time I ever heard of this happening, and in some ways that would still be vulnerable to e.g. political upheaval.
I think the bit that hasn’t been “dualled” was already wide enough for typical ships to pass in both directions, so wouldn’t necessarily be a priority for dualling. Back in the 80s when I last went through it was a system of convoys in both directions throughout, IIRC one direction, (maybe southbound), stopped in the Bitter Lakes while the opposite direction convoy passed through non-stop.
 

Bletchleyite

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I think the bit that hasn’t been “dualled” was already wide enough for typical ships to pass in both directions, so wouldn’t necessarily be a priority for dualling. Back in the 80s when I last went through it was a system of convoys in both directions throughout, IIRC one direction, (maybe southbound), stopped in the Bitter Lakes while the opposite direction convoy passed through non-stop.

I'm fairly sure I read that it still operates like that now on the non-dualled bits, perhaps for added safety margin.
 

ainsworth74

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The Panama canals is an alternative.

Pardon? Have you looked at a globe recently? :lol:

For a container ship to go from say Shanghai to Rotterdam via the Panama Canal is on the order of 16,000 miles. To do the same journey via Suez it's closer 12,000. That's quite a lot of extra time and fuel being spent. I'm not convinced it's a viable alternative. Plus in some dimensions New Panamax is still smaller than Suezmax so you may not even be able to send some ships via the Panama Canal that could happily go via the Suez Canal.
 

Bletchleyite

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Pardon? Have you looked at a globe recently? :lol:

Actually, surprisingly few do, and as a result, because most of the projections either omit most of the Pacific or show it as being quite small, a surprisingly large number of people don't have any sort of idea just how far it is to go "round the other way".
 

swt_passenger

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I'm fairly sure I read that it still operates like that now on the non-dualled bits, perhaps for added safety margin.
Yes, I expect given the underwater shape of the canal as ships have got bigger they’ll be constrained to the centre of the channel anyway.

I wonder if it really was a sudden wind that took charge of the ship...
 

Bletchleyite

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Yes, I expect given the underwater shape of the canal as ships have got bigger they’ll be constrained to the centre of the channel anyway.

I wonder if it really was a sudden wind that took charge of the ship...

I noted an article on VICE (and a few other places) that showed that the ship-tracking websites had picked up that the ship had been sailed such that it drew, er, an indecent image, in the sea before entering the canal. This does make me wonder if the crew were just possibly not taking things as seriously as they should have been for whatever reason.
 

LSWR Cavalier

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The Guardian has an interesting article about this. The gigantic vessels have only a handful of sailors on board, the working conditions are suboptimal.
 

E100

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All it needs for absolute completeness is a proposed use for surplus HSTs and/or 442s....
Build tracks down each side and pull them along like the Panama locks. A few HST's with a a rack and a 442 at the front and back would do nicely.
 

ChiefPlanner

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Build tracks down each side and pull them along like the Panama locks. A few HST's with a a rack and a 442 at the front and back would do nicely.

HST's would fail the "easy coupling test" with the emergency bar coupling ..........
 

Peter Mugridge

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I wonder if it really was a sudden wind that took charge of the ship...
I thought about that the day it happened, but I think it's a genuine accident.

1) If you were going to block the canal on purpose, you'd do it in the middle - not close to one of the entrances where recovery would be easier.

2) Unless it's been suppressed, there has been no news of anyone claiming responsibility. There's not a lot of point in anyone carrying out a high profile act unless they let everyone know it was them who did it.

3) Such a high proportion of the global trade uses the canal that it would be very difficult for any faction anywhere to do something like this without hurting at least some of their backers as well.
 

chiltern trev

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I heard the ship lost power - so no working propellors and thus no steerage. The ship then got hit broadside with a huge gust of wind.
Looking at one of the BBC pictures, the bow appears to be a few metres higher than the stern so the ship will be well dug in and all the bottom of the bow section will be well stuck cresting a huge suction effect.
 

Jan Mayen

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I believe that rail is used to convay a small number of containers from China to Europe.
Anyone know how many containers are (or could be) transported by train from China to Europe?
 

Master Cutler

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The greatest threat to the ship is tugs putting too much stress on her hull resulting in damage below the water line.
These ships can easily break their back when being pulled and pushed if there is uneven forces in play due to one end running aground.
 

swt_passenger

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I thought about that the day it happened, but I think it's a genuine accident.

1) If you were going to block the canal on purpose, you'd do it in the middle - not close to one of the entrances where recovery would be easier.

2) Unless it's been suppressed, there has been no news of anyone claiming responsibility. There's not a lot of point in anyone carrying out a high profile act unless they let everyone know it was them who did it.

3) Such a high proportion of the global trade uses the canal that it would be very difficult for any faction anywhere to do something like this without hurting at least some of their backers as well.
Ah, I wasn’t aiming to suggest it was intentional, just that “strong wind” may have been a euphemism for some kind of steering or propulsion breakdown. (As someone else has now suggested.)

I’d have thought reasonably strong winds were something that was fairly normal or predictable in the canal area, and ships should usually be able to deal with them? Is this ship unusually large and more susceptible?
 

Baxenden Bank

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An alternative to a second channel would be a rail link. The Panama Canal has a parallel rail line, with container handling ports at both ends. Wouldn't help the ships trapped in transit but could assist with those waiting to enter. Not a cheap solution, especially with the capital costs not actually earning revenue and the equipment likewise but also having to be maintained in readiness. Quite a few locos and container flats would be needed for just one of those vessels. Depends on the relative costs of a second channel over the costs of a railway and associated equipment. Both of which need to be assessed against the frequency of occurrence of an event like this - as mentioned perhaps only a handful of times in 150 years - but ships have got much larger so perhaps the liklehood of an occurance is now greater.
 

ainsworth74

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Anyone know how many containers are (or could be) transported by train from China to Europe?

I'm not sure of the exact answer to you question but I think part of that answer will be "nowhere near enough". Ever Given by herself can shift 20,000 twenty foot containers and there's dozens of such ships either currently stuck, on their way to the Suez Canal or going around the Cape of Good Hope. I feel like we would need dozens of double stack intermodal trains every day to replicate that capacity.
 

Mcr Warrior

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Is this ship unusually large and more susceptible?
Possibly not, but noted from the various media pics that the containers on the 'Ever Given' are stacked at least ten containers tall, so they must have collectively offered some wind resistance.

Slightly ironic also that the ship is Panama registered and it's the Suez canal that it's stuffing up! :rolleyes:
 

philthetube

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An alternative to a second channel would be a rail link. The Panama Canal has a parallel rail line, with container handling ports at both ends. Wouldn't help the ships trapped in transit but could assist with those waiting to enter. Not a cheap solution, especially with the capital costs not actually earning revenue and the equipment likewise but also having to be maintained in readiness. Quite a few locos and container flats would be needed for just one of those vessels. Depends on the relative costs of a second channel over the costs of a railway and associated equipment. Both of which need to be assessed against the frequency of occurrence of an event like this - as mentioned perhaps only a handful of times in 150 years - but ships have got much larger so perhaps the liklehood of an occurance is now greater.
I understand it is very expensive to take a ship through the canal so maybe there is a use for rail from port to port, the ports may be able to act as hubs to bring cargo for a single destinatio on to one ship.
 

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