Mega ship blocking Suez Canal is finally freed but what damage to 'just in time' supply chains?

Mon 29 Mar 2021
Posted by: Noelle McElhatton
Trade News

After almost seven days blocking one of the world’s busiest trade shipping lanes, the Ever Given container ship has been dislodged from the shores of the Suez Canal.

According to the Guardian Egyptian and international teams managed to partially shift the vessel at 2:30 GMT.

The megaship is the length of four football fields and in running aground on the canal’s bank, it managed to cause a long tailback of more than 350 commercial ships, costing global trade between $6-10bn a day, according to one estimate.

Just-in-case

The chief executive of Maersk has told the FT that the crisis could accelerate the global shift away from just-in-time supply chains. 

Soren Skou said companies had already been changing their supply chains because of the coronavirus pandemic, moving away from single suppliers, embracing just-in-case supply chains, and keeping much higher levels of inventory.

Maersk carries a fifth of the world’s seaborne freight. Skou said he expected companies to boost their inventories after being caught unaware by the strength of the recovery in demand for goods at the end of last year.

“Retailers stopped buying in the spring of 2020 and now they’re trying to restock at the same time as there’s very strong demand. The restocking cycle will run for a while,” he added.

Beginning of the end

Earlier in the day as the stern was freed, Peter Berdowski, CEO of Boskalis, the salvage firm hired to extract the Ever Given, told Dutch radio: “Don’t cheer too soon”.

Traffic will resume once the ship was moved to a waiting area in a wider section of the canal, the authority said. A total of 367 vessels were waiting to pass through.

Crude oil prices fell after news the ship had been partially refloated earlier today, with Brent crude down by $1.41 a barrel to $63.05.

Container shortage

Freight firms fear last week’s blockage will lead to weeks of delays and add to an ongoing shortage of export containers, Lloyd’s Loading List report

Grant Liddell, business development director of UK freight forwarder Metro Shipping, said the blockage had created “one of the worst shipping jams seen in years” and was delaying the movement of 55,000 TEU of export loaded and empty containers back to Asia every day.

Logistics visibility platform Project44 highlighted that in just 24 hours there had been a more than 40% increase in the level of vessel capacity stacking up behind the Ever Given.

Ports swamped

Jett McCandless, CEO of Project44, said: “Once the log-jam is broken, major ports in Rotterdam, Antwerp, and Hamburg will be swamped. That congestion will have rolling effects further down the supply chain for months to come, exacerbating an already problematic situation at major European ports.”

Analysis from Trade Insights suggests that the incident could have an “enormous” impact on freight rates. 

Alternative routes are more time-consuming and expensive than the Suez canal, and the impact of even a brief closure on container freight rates would be enormous in a market that is already struggling to access capacity and containers.