The Suez Canal- Egypt must move quickly to upgrade its technical infrastructure if it is to prevent future shipping disruption, shipping industry sources said, as the major trade route tries to bounce back from a costly six-day closure.
On March 23, the international supply chains were thrown into disarray when the 400-metre container ship Ever Given ran in the canal, with specialist rescue teams taking almost a week to free her after extensive dredging and repeated tugging operations.
Egypt will get two new tugboats, one next week and one in August, said chairman Osama Rabie after the ship was finally freed, as well as arranging for a further five new Chinese tugboats.
But sources in the shipping industry said commercial equipment and associated procedures have long struggled to keep up with the ever increasing size of special vessels.
The average size of most vessels has increased exponentially over the last 15 years. The ability to salvage these bigger ships has not helped, said Peter Townsend, a marine insurance veteran.
The problem is getting containers off essentially at sea a 20- storey building.
In 2013, Michael Kingston, an international shipping specialist and an advisor to the International Maritime Organization of the United Nations, blocked these problems three years before the MSC Fabiola container ship ran aground, also blocking traffic for days.
The obvious way to lighten a vessel is to take the containers off. They had no way of doing it; no equipment was readily available, he said of the Ever Given incident. The SCA says that the canal can safely carry vessels of the Ever Given size- with a maximum capacity of 20,000 TEU- even in rough weather.
As well as larger tugboats, dredgers and offloaders, stricter guidelines on how ships move through the canal are needed, the industry sources said.
Those could include using tugs to assist large ships, or only permitting transit during daylight hours. Of course, there are many lessons to be learned from the incident.
Of course we have the capability, said the SCA President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi; Visiting the Suez Canal this week, the Egyptian President Rabie said: We need to give a strong message to the world that the canal can transport world trade at this rate or more. It was not clear yet if the Canal would choose to extend a second channel south of the one that Egypt opened in 2015 at a cost of$ 8 billion along a 70-km section of the waterway.
Such extension would allow traffic to continue flowing even if a ship was grounded.
An expansion of the southern section of the canal can be envisaged, said Sisi. It is up to the extraordinary people: We do n't want to take measures just due to technical situations.