Opinion

Suez Canal blockage is a wake-up call

Suez Canal blockage is a wake-up call

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The grounding of the Ever Given mega-container ship in the Suez Canal has clogged a major global trade artery. The giant vessel has a capacity of 20,000 containers and was en route from Yantian, in China, to the Port of Rotterdam in the Netherlands when it ran aground and blocked the waterway.
The Ever Given is owned by Japan’s Shoei Kisan Kaisha and chartered to Taiwanese line Evergreen and the ripple effect of the incident on shipping is only now being realized.
This is not the first time that a ship has become stuck in the Suez Canal which is a vital passageway between east and west. Previous groundings have involved smaller vessels, including the Fabiola which blocked southbound transits for two days in 2016, and the Maersk Shams in 2015 that was refloated on the same day with little disruption.
But this time it is different. The latest blockage is a wake-up call to guaranteeing that the Suez Canal chokepoints remain free and clear from such incidents. If the canal does reopen quickly, vessels waiting now should be able to make up time without too much disruption to global supply chains already weighed down by port congestion and inland transportation delays caused by the coronavirus pandemic.
So, the Suez infarction has occurred while the human race is living through the pandemic. The body is ill.
It is not yet clear what caused the Ever Given to run aground but initial reports suggested the ship had experienced engine trouble. However, a spokesman for the vessel’s technical managers ruled out any suggestion of mechanical or technical failure.
The Ever Given is now under salvage contract in coordination with the Suez Canal Authority to move the vessel and to reopen the canal, but estimates vary to the length of time it will take for a full resumption of traffic.
The key question is what to do? Remedies include waiting for higher tides, or to dig out a wide turning circle by digging up banks of the canal, but that solution will take time and require specialist equipment. Another option is to lighten the vessel, although this would be a more complicated salvage operation.
Given the size of the ship — the length of four football pitches — and the fact that it is fully loaded, efforts to remove containers using a crane barge will be challenging.
Shippers will soon have to reroute around the Cape of Good Hope to keep Asia-northern Europe and Asia-US east coast logistical services running. Such a move will generate extra insurance and other shipping costs and delay deliveries by weeks. And the coronavirus pandemic will only add to the snowball effect.
Containerized goods represent around 26 percent of the total Suez Canal traffic, with westbound shipping estimated to be worth around $5.1 billion a day and eastbound daily traffic $4.5 billion. In the first day of the blockage, 165 vessels — including 41 bulk carriers, 20 Panamax and Supramax vessels, and two bulk ore ships — were either waiting at one end of the canal or being prevented from exiting.
The breakdown becomes more interesting. There were 24 crude tankers, including three supertankers (VLCCs) and nine Suezmax vessels; 33 container ships, four of which (including the Ever Given) are of 197,000-plus deadweight tonnage; 16 liquefied petroleum or natural gas carriers; eight vehicle carriers; and 15 product tankers, including long-range ships carrying 90,000-ton cargoes of jet fuel or diesel to Europe. The backlog, just for energy vessels alone, is around 50 per day.
Safeguarding the back-up of vessels is vital because of maritime security threats. Such delays send signals that these ships may be ripe for attack or acts of piracy, inspiring some groups to take advantage of the situation.

Safeguarding the back-up of vessels is vital because of maritime security threats.

Dr. Theodore Karasik

So, the Ever Given incident is creating opportunity for certain actors to potentially interrupt logistical flows. With ships possibly having to divert around the southern tip of Africa, piracy also becomes a threat in the Gulf of Guinea and nations along the Gulf’s coastline need to be on full alert over the coming weeks.
The blockage of the Suez Canal makes it even more important to ensure that other waterways remain free and clear. The Ever Given incident is a wake-up call to the logistical chain and one from which lessons must be learned.
The Panama Canal, which connects the Atlantic and Pacific oceans, has in the past experienced problems of its own and situations of this kind in narrow waterways serve to highlight that logistical flow control is key to global economic security.

  • Dr. Theodore Karasik is a senior adviser to Gulf State Analytics in Washington, D.C. Twitter: @tkarasik
Disclaimer: Views expressed by writers in this section are their own and do not necessarily reflect Arab News' point-of-view

Suez dredgers step up efforts to free giant cargo ship

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The Ever Given ran aground some 6 kilometers north of the southernly mouth of the Suez Canal, an area that is a single lane. (Supplied)
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An Egyptian canal authority official called Ever Given’s refloating a ‘very sensitive and complicated’ operation which needs to ‘be handled very carefully.’ (AFP)
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The Ever Given ran aground some 6 kilometers north of the southernly mouth of the Suez Canal, an area that is a single lane. (CNES/AFP)
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The Ever Given ran aground some 6 kilometers north of the southernly mouth of the Suez Canal, an area that is a single lane. (Supplied)
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The Ever Given ran aground some 6 kilometers north of the southernly mouth of the Suez Canal, an area that is a single lane. (Supplied)
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Updated 27 March 2021

Suez dredgers step up efforts to free giant cargo ship

  • The 400-meter-long MV Ever Given — one of the world’s largest container ships — has blocked the strategic waterway since running aground on Tuesday
  • More than 230 ships, containing billions of dollars of goods, have joined queues around the 120-mile canal, one of the world’s most important trading routes

CAIRO: The Suez Canal Authority stepped up dredging operations around a stranded cargo ship on Friday amid warning by salvage experts that it could take weeks to remove the vessel and open up the vital shipping lane.

The 400-meter-long MV Ever Given — one of the world’s largest container ships — has blocked the strategic waterway since running aground on Tuesday, triggering a crisis for international shipping and fears of a shortage of essential goods and fuel.

More than 230 ships, containing billions of dollars of goods, have joined queues around the 120-mile canal, one of the world’s most important trading routes.

Osama Rabie, chairman of the authority, said on Friday that dredging operations around the giant container ship had reached 87 percent capacity.

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The dredger Mashhour began working 100 meters from the ship on Thursday but by Friday had approached to within 15 meters of the stricken vessel, working at depths from half a meter to 15 meters. 

Rabie said that two tugboats will attempt to tow the Ever Given after dredging work removes from 15,000 to 20,000 cubic meters of sand.

He said that the authority welcomed offers by the US and other countries to help dislodge the container ship, adding that “global navigation movement in the canal will be restored as soon as possible.”

The canal is a vital commercial corridor between Europe and Asia, with about 12 percent of global trade passing through the waterway.

Amid the disruption shipping costs for petroleum products have almost doubled, and several ships have been diverted away from the canal.

Russia used the crisis to promote the northern sea route as an alternative to the Suez Canal, with the Russian State Nuclear Energy Corporation Rosatom calling on ships to use the Arctic option.

“You might get stuck in the Suez Canal for days,” the nuclear agency said.

The Russian corporation boasted on Twitter that it provided real-time data on weather, currents, ice movement and other important information for navigating the north.

Capt. Farid Rushdie, chief guide for the Suez Canal in Ismailia, is assessing the Suez Canal accident and its impact.

Ship strandings are a common occurrence in international shipping lanes, he said.

In 1997, the Suez Canal was blocked for three days after an oil tanker ran aground in the same area.

“The safety of the ship is more important to us in the rescue operations than the length of time,” he said.

He said that the bigger the ship, the harder it is to dislodge from the canal’s banks.

“That’s why it is handled professionally and calmly,” he added.


Turkey could buy more Russian S-400 missiles despite US warnings

Updated 26 September 2021

Turkey could buy more Russian S-400 missiles despite US warnings

  • President Recep Tayyip Erdogan says Turkey would have to decide its defense systems on its own
  • The US strongly objects to the use of Russian systems within NATO and says it poses a threat to the F-35s

ISTANBUL: Turkey’s president has said he would consider buying a second Russian missile system in defiance of strong objections by the United States.
In an interview with American broadcaster CBS News, President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said Turkey would have to decide its defense systems on its own.
Speaking to correspondent Margaret Brennan in New York this past week, Erdogan explained that Turkey wasn’t given the option to buy American-made Patriot missiles and the US hadn’t delivered F-35 stealth jets despite a payment of $1.4 billion. Erdogan’s comments came in excerpts released in advance of the full interview being broadcast Sunday.
NATO member Turkey was kicked out of the F-35 program and defense officials were sanctioned after it bought the Russian-made S-400 missile defense system. The US strongly objects to the use of Russian systems within NATO and says it poses a threat to the F-35s. Turkey maintains the S-400s could be used independently without being integrated into NATO systems and therefore pose no risk.
The US also sanctioned Turkey in 2020 for its purchase under a 2017 law aimed at pushing back Russian influence. The move was the first time that the law, known as CAATSA, was used to penalize a US ally.
But Erdogan has remained defiant. “Of course, of course, yes,” Erdogan said after stating Turkey would make its own defense choices, in response to Brennan’s question on whether Turkey would buy more S-400s.
The issue is one of several sticking points in Turkish-American relations that also include US support for Syrian Kurdish fighters who Turkey considers terrorists, and the continued US residency of a Muslim cleric accused of plotting the failed coup attempt against Erdogan’s government in 2016.
Erdogan is scheduled to meet Russian President Vladimir Putin on Sept. 29.


Israeli forces kill 4 Palestinians in West Bank raids — Palestinian health ministry

Updated 26 September 2021

Israeli forces kill 4 Palestinians in West Bank raids — Palestinian health ministry

RAMALLAH, West Bank: Israeli forces killed at least four Palestinians during a raid in the occupied West Bank on Sunday, the Palestinian Health Ministry said.

Israeli Prime Minister Naftali Bennett, in a statement, said Israeli forces had mounted an operation against "Hamas terrorists who were about to carry out imminent terrorist attacks".

He made no mention of casualties and an Israeli military spokesperson had no immediate comment on the raids.

Israeli officials have long voiced concern that Hamas, which runs the Gaza Strip, intends to gain strength in the West Bank and challenge its rival, the Western-backed Palestinian Authority (PA).

The PA Health Ministry said three Palestinians were killed in the West Bank village of Biddu, northwest of Jerusalem. It said another Palestinian was killed in Burqin, a village near the Palestinian city of Jenin.

Reports on Israel's main radio stations and news websites said that at least four militants were killed in raids on several locations in the West Bank aimed at capturing Hamas members.


Interim PM outlines ambitions, challenges for newly free Sudan

Updated 26 September 2021

Interim PM outlines ambitions, challenges for newly free Sudan

  • Abdalla Hamdok: Aim is to build ‘safe, stable’ country ‘where everyone lives in peace, prosperity, freedom, justice’
  • He thanked international partners, such as Saudi Arabia, who have provided assistance to Sudan’s fledgling government

NEW YORK: The prime minister of Sudan’s transitional government has outlined its plans for a “safe and stable” nation, and urged world leaders to work together to deliver more COVID-19 vaccines to developing countries.
“The transitional government in Sudan continues to implement policies aiming to lay the foundations for democracy and rule of law, and to promote human rights,” Abdalla Hamdok told UN General Assembly delegates.
“At the same time, it aims to tackle the chronic structural problems beleaguering our economy,” he said.
“These programs and these policies underpin a common goal — that is, building a safe and stable Sudan where everyone lives in peace, prosperity, freedom and justice, as expressed in the slogans of the glorious revolution of December.”
At the end of 2018 and into 2019, the Sudanese people overthrew Omar Bashir, bringing to an end 30 years of autocratic rule.
Since then, Hamdok said, “the reforms undertaken have had an effect on the most vulnerable people in our society. We’ve launched social protection programs … with the aid of regional and international partners.”
Among those international supporters is Saudi Arabia, which in May provided a $20 million grant to assist Sudan with servicing its debts to the International Monetary Fund. More investment by the Kingdom is expected.
But while Sudan’s revolution achieved its initial goal of establishing a civilian government, the country faces a plethora of systemic and economic challenges, including the coronavirus pandemic.
Hamdok said Sudan has witnessed an influx of refugees from neighboring countries, and it does not have the resources to effectively manage this.
“Host communities are the first providers of protection and solidarity to these people. They share their scant resources and don’t, unfortunately, receive the support they require,” he added.
“Conditions in refugee camps are better than those in many host communities. The international community needs to effectively contribute to the development of these communities as part of distributing the burden involved. More money is needed.”
Hamdok also urged regional countries to reach a lasting agreement on Ethiopia’s Grand Renaissance Dam, which has fueled tensions between Addis Ababa on one hand and Egypt and Sudan on the other because of the Nile’s critical importance to each country.
He commended the role of the World Health Organization in combating the pandemic, which he said has hit poor nations particularly hard.
“International cooperation and multilateral action” are required to ensure people in poor countries are able to access COVID-19 vaccines, he said.
A cooperative and global approach to ending the pandemic is “the only way to give true meaning to the slogan ‘no one is safe until everyone is safe’,” he added.

(With AP)

 


Tunisia’s Islamist party falling apart as over 100 key members resign amid crisis

Updated 26 September 2021

Tunisia’s Islamist party falling apart as over 100 key members resign amid crisis

  • Party leader Rached Ghannouchi chided for making “bad political choices” and forming “inappropriate alliances”

TUNIS/JEDDAH: Tunisia’s main Islamist political party was on the verge of collapse on Saturday after more than 100 key members resigned in protest against their leader.

Among the 113 members who resigned from the Ennahda party were key figures from the party leadership, including members of parliament and former ministers.

They directed their anger at veteran party leader Rached Ghannouchi, 80, who co-founded the party in 1981 inspired by the Muslim Brotherhood and has led it ever since. “The current party leadership is responsible for Ennahdha’s isolation and largely for the deteriorating situation in the country,” the former members said.

They blamed Ghannouchi for making “bad political choices” and forming “inappropriate alliances” with other movements that “undermined Ennahdha’s credibility.”

Ghannouchi had “failed” and “refused all the advice” that was given to him, they said.

Former Minister of Health Abdellatif Mekki, one of those who resigned, said: “I feel deeply sad ... I feel the pain of separation ... but I have no choice after I tried for a long time, especially in recent months ... I take responsibility for the decision that I made for my country.”

Ghannouchi was Tunisia’s parliamentary speaker until July, when President Kais Saied sacked the government, suspended parliament, removed the immunity of lawmakers and put himself in charge of prosecutions.

On Wednesday, Saied announced decrees that strengthen the powers of his office at the expense of the government and parliament, and said he would rule by decree.

Ennahdha, the largest bloc in parliament, claimed the president had carried out a coup, but Saied’s actions remain overwhelmingly popular with Tunisians. They blame Ennahda for the country’s political and economic paralysis since the removal of dictator Zine El Abidine Ben Ali in 2011, and for the failure to combat the coronavirus pandemic.

Fractious coalitions and short-lived governments since the uprising have failed to resolve mounting social and economic crises. Ennahda officials have demanded that Ghannouchi resign over the party’s response to the crisis, and strategic choices he has made since elections in 2019. Last month Ghannouchi dismissed the party’s executive committee in an effort to calm the protests against him.

Ennahda has been the most powerful party in Tunisia since the 2011 revolution, and has played a role in backing successive coalition governments. However, it has lost support as the economy stagnated and public services declined.

Ghannouchi admitted last week that his party was in part responsible for Saied taking executive power. “Ennahdha is not in power but it backed the government, despite some criticism we had,” he said.

(With Reuters)

 


Sudanese protesters block key pipelines, says oil minister

Updated 26 September 2021

Sudanese protesters block key pipelines, says oil minister

  • Port Sudan is the country’s main seaport and a vital trade hub for its export-dependent economy

KHARTOUM: Sudanese protesters on Saturday blocked two key oil pipelines in Port Sudan, the main seaport on the Red Sea, over a peace deal with rebel groups, the oil minister said.

Warning of “an extremely grave situation,” Oil Minister Gadein Ali Obeid told AFP one pipeline transports oil exports from South Sudan while the other handles Sudanese crude imports.

“Entrances and exits at the port’s export terminal have been completely shuttered” since early Saturday, he said.

Last October, several rebel groups signed a peace deal with Sudan’s transitional government which came to power shortly after the April 2019 ouster of longtime President Omar Bashir.

The protesters, from Sudan’s Beja minority, say that the deal, with rebels from the Darfur region and Blue Nile and South Kordofan states, ignored their interests.

Beja rebels agreed on a peace deal with the Bashir regime in 2006 after a decade of low-level conflict in Port Sudan and the east.

Port Sudan is the country’s main seaport and a vital trade hub for its export-dependent economy.

The Khartoum government receives around $25 for every barrel of oil sold from South Sudan, according to official figures.

South Sudan produces around 162,000 barrels per day, which is transported by pipeline to Port Sudan and then shipped to global markets.

“There are enough (oil) reserves to last the country’s needs for up to 10 days,” Sudan’s oil ministry said in a statement.

It warned the export pipeline could sustain damage after demonstrators prevented a vessel from loading crude.

Protests against the October 2020 deal have rocked east Sudan since last week.

On Sept. 17, demonstrators impeded access to the docks in Port Sudan.

On Friday, demonstrators blocked the entrance to the airport and a bridge linking Kassala state with the rest of the country.

The unrest comes as Sudan grapples with chronic economic problems inherited from the Bashir regime.

Shortly after it began, the transitional government of Prime Minister Abdalla Hamdok said it had foiled a coup attempt by supporters of the ousted president.