- The Ever Given container ship has been blocking the Suez Canal for days.
- Some vessels hoping to use the canal are beginning to wonder about taking the long way round.
- Before the canal, ships had to go round Africa, a costly, long, and dangerous alternative.
- See more stories on Insider’s business page.
A massive container ship blocking the Suez Canal is forcing shipping companies to consider the agonizing alternative of detouring round the southern tip of Africa.
According to a Thursday report from Reuters, experts estimated that if the Ever Given was not dislodged in 24 to 48 hours, companies would be forced to look into this option.
The Ever Given was stranded, blocking the canal’s entire main channel, at around 7.40 a.m. local time Tuesday. The situation has left around 150 vessels on either side of the canal awaiting passage, the Associated Press (AP) reported.
As of Thursday afternoon local time, efforts were still underway to unstick the ship from the sides of the canal.
Officials gave no firm timeframe for when that might be possible. The CEO of a specialist dredging firm brought in to help said that it “might take weeks.”
Commodity analysts Kpler said in a statement Thursday: “As delays continue, shippers will have to broach the unpalatable decision of whether to make a u-turn and head for the Cape of Good Hope or wait it out in the Red Sea and Mediterranean.”
Currently, taking such a route is “unlikely,” Kpler said, given the extensive delays that would cause.
Giving a sample route, the company said: “Suez to Amsterdam at 12 knots is just over 13 days via the canal, or 41 days via the Cape.”
“There would still need to be notice of longer running delays before those decisions were made.”
The extra costs of sailing via this route are phenomenal. Anoop Singh, Singapore-based head of tanker analysis at Braemar ACM, told The Wall Street Journal that the detour can add $450,000 in costs to a typical journey.
The maximum length of such detour would be around 15,000 miles, if a ship were to sail from Suez at the south of the canal to Port Said at the north end without using the canal.
Most routes would differ from that and involve a shorter detour. Prof Rocky Weitz, director of the Fletcher Maritime Studies Program at The Fletcher School at Tufts University, told Insider that a more typical detour would still be thousands of miles longer.
“The Cape of Good Hope route adds approximately 3,000 nautical miles to the Suez Canal route from the Indian Ocean to the North Atlantic, depending on the specific route taken by a commercial vessel,” he told Insider.
The cost implications of this depend on the type of ship, he addded — an oil tanker could add up to 300 hours to the journey, while a comparatively fast container ship could add up to 150. Shipping companies will be weighing this against the money saved in the Suez Canal’s fees.
Maersk, which has nine ships stuck while the canal is cleared, said in a statement that it is looking at all possible alternatives.
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It is unclear how many companies have made this call so far. Chemicals company Wood Mackenzie, which also provides supply chain analysis, estimated that as of Thursday no ships it has been tracking have yet made such a diversion.
Shippers told the WSJ that they were already seeking other routes to get supplies of oil, gas and other commodities out.
For some ships just setting out, the Cape of Good Hope route may well be the best option, Weitz told Insider. Vessels leaving, for example, major ports like Rotterdam or Singapore could find it quicker just to go round the southern tip of Africa, rather than attempting to pass through Seuez, waiting, and having to backtrack, he said.
Container ships already at sea between Northern Europe and Pacific Asia may also make the same decision, he added.
The Suez Canal was last closed in 1967, when war broke out between Egypt and Israel. For the next eight years, ships that would have gone via the canal were forced to take the long way round.