Ships were again moving slowly through the Suez Canal on Tuesday, hours after engineers freed the Ever Given and cleared the waterway for global traffic.
Shipowners, exporters and importers are now racing to secure berths and containers at ports, while warning of delays and higher costs for cargoes that are slowly starting to move toward their destinations again. Shipping lines sent many ships on alternative routes, including around the southern tip of Africa, delaying arrivals and adding costs. Port authorities are girding for a flood of arrivals as diverted ships and delayed Suez vessels arrive on top of regularly scheduled traffic.
The Ever Given, a 1,300-foot container ship, was wedged in the canal for most of a week until dredgers, powerful tugs and a favorable tide all helped to lift it free. The vessel was towed to an anchorage out of the way of canal traffic. Once the canal was clear, the first of several ships stuck in the waterway made its way to the Red Sea.
Gulf Agency Co., a shipping-services company operating at Suez, said a total of 437 vessels had been blocked by the Ever Given’s grounding.
chairman of the Suez Canal Authority, which runs the 120-mile shipping route, said Tuesday that 113 ships had crossed in both directions since the route reopened and another 95 are expected to pass by the evening. That is up from the typical 50 or so making the voyage, which can take up to 16 hours. The logjam will be cleared within three to four days, he told a press conference.
Dozens are also anchored in the Great Bitter Lake, an inland body of water along the route of the canal, where salvagers have towed the Ever Given. Authorities are inspecting it to anchor for damage.
Livestock carriers, whose cargo was deemed most at risk, have been given priority. For Valid Diab, who runs supplies for three animal-carrying ships, the reopening was a relief. His ships were moved to the front of the line.
“I was getting worried about supplies,” he said. “Thank God, no mortality.” Two of his vessels are now scheduled to arrive in three days at the Saudi port of Jeddah, laden with Spanish calves and lambs and Romanian cows, in time for the Ramadan festivities that start next month.
With some 13% of global maritime trade and 10% of seaborne oil shipments traveling through the canal, the blockade disrupted the transportation of a range of goods, from grains and electronic chips to energy. Commodities-data company Kpler said it disrupted exports of liquefied natural gas from the world’s biggest exporter, Qatar. “There will be considerable delays in the loading schedule at Ras Laffan [in Qatar] for the start of April,” it warned.
Canal traffic is conducted by sending alternative slugs of ships, steaming one behind the other in convoys, in either direction, since the canal can’t handle two-way traffic everywhere along its route. The first ships from outside the canal entered late Monday from the Mediterranean. They diverted and dropped anchor in the Great Bitter Lake, according to a person familiar with the matter.
Around the same time, a convoy of vessels that had been stranded in the lake by the Ever Given weighed anchor and proceeded south. Once they exited, a second, northbound convoy of ships entered from the Red Sea en route to the Mediterranean. Once they pass the Great Bitter Lake, ships that anchored there overnight will proceed southbound to the Red Sea.
The ship that held up Suez Canal traffic, the Ever Given, is one of the world’s biggest ships.
Deadweight*: 220,123 tons
HMM Algeciras 2020 (world’s largest ship)
Deadweight*: 220,462 tons
18 tractor trailers (72 feet)
NYK TRITON 2008
The largest ship through the Panama Canal
While traffic started moving again, shipping industry executives girded for continued delays. Many big lines, including
A/S, the world’s largest container line, diverted more than a dozen ships around Africa. South Korean container operator HMM Co., which has 14 vessels transporting goods between Asia and Europe, decided to reroute three of its vessels heading to Europe via the Cape of Good Hope, around the south of Africa.
“It’s difficult to grasp the added costs of the rerouted journeys at the moment,” said Roh Jee-hwan, general manager at HMM’s public-relations office. Going around Africa adds nearly 2,500 miles to a vessel’s travel distance, Mr. Roh said. The amount of fuel needed for the extra travel can vary—even for the same type of ships—depending on the weather and currents along the journey, and the speed at which they travel.
Logistics experts were forecasting port congestion in Asia and Europe as some of these diverted vessels arrive at ports around the same time as the delayed vessels now making their way slowly through the canal. That is on top of regularly scheduled traffic.
“This backup risks leading to a concentration of volume,” said Luigi Bruzzone, an analyst for the port of Genoa, one of Italy’s busiest. “What we were expecting to come throughout April will now be concentrated in the last two weeks of the month.”
—Eun-Young Jeong and Eric Sylvers contributed to this article.
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