Containerships began streaming through the Suez Canal again today after waiting nearly a week for emergency crews to tow the Evergreen Line Corp.’s “Ever Given” ship off the banks of the waterway where it was grounded, but the echoes of the abrupt stop in global trade will reverberate for months.
In the short term, maritime ports throughout Europe and Asia could be swamped in coming days by the sudden arrival of simultaneous waves of imports, as delayed freighters race to make up time and exchange their loads for new containers, logistics insiders say.
And in the long term, that pulse of container volume will add another layer of stress onto supply chains that were already groaning under the weight of efforts to jumpstart retail and manufacturing economies that have been shuttered for a year under pandemic shutdowns.
Long before the Ever Given ran aground on March 23 during a sandstorm in the canal between the Mediterranean and Red seas, international freight flows were already snarled by the rush to restock warehouses, stores, and factories. Those sporadic reopenings have happened on different dates in various industries, states, and nations, quickly causing shortages and surpluses of shipping containers.
Companies are having trouble restocking due to shipping delays, inventory issues, and port congestion, according to a statement by Johnathan Foster, principal consultant with the London-based supply chain consultancy Proxima Group.
“It’s not just the ships that travel through areas like the Suez Canal, it is the availability of containers. At the onset of the pandemic, essential medical supplies went into South America and Africa and containers got stuck there,” Foster said in a release. “Ships have become so full that they are not able to send feeder vessels to go pick those up. As a result, there was a shortage of 40-foot containers in Asia and they started using 20 foot containers in place. This had a cascading impact as what normally takes one box now takes two.”
Now that tugboats have pulled the 20,000 twenty-foot equivalent (TEU)-capacity Ever Given into the canal’s widest point, called the Great Bitter Lake, other vessels can finally resume their trips, and those peaks and valleys will eventually begin to level out. But maritime authorities have just begun their inspection of the accident’s cause, the ship’s condition, and the dispersal of its cargo.
“The chartered vessel will be repositioned to the Great Bitter Lake in the Canal for an inspection of its seaworthiness. The outcome of that inspection will determine whether the ship can resume its scheduled service. Once the inspection is finalized, decisions will be made regarding arrangements for cargo currently on board,” Evergreen Line said in a release today.
“We are most grateful to the Suez Canal Authority and all the concerned parties for their assistance and support through this difficult and unfortunate situation. We would also like to express our deepest appreciation to the crew who remain steadfast in their posts as well as the salvage experts and dredging team for their professionalism and relentless efforts over the past 6 days toward securing this outcome. Evergreen will coordinate with the shipowner to deal with subsequent matters after the shipowner and other concerned parties complete investigation reports into the incident,” Evergreen Line said.