The Suez Canal is a global shipping highway, so it makes sense that, when there’s a slow down on that highway, engineers are going to do what they do on regular highways: They add a lane.
The canal is responsible for more than 10 percent of global shipping and shaves weeks off cargo ship journeys around the globe. Ever since the Ever Given got lodged in the man-made waterway, the shipping industry has been grappling with precarious nature of the flow of consumer goods. I mean, British people couldn’t get their lawn gnomes. Somehow, they avoided riots, but we might not be so lucky next time.
The Suez Canal Authority announced its plans to widen the canal by adding some space in a second lane that was completed in 2015. The SCA has already started dredging, the Guardian reports:
The state-owned Suez Canal Authority (SCA) announced last week that it was planning to extend a second canal lane that opened in 2015 by 10km to make it 82km long, and would widen and deepen a single lane stretch at the southern end of the canal.
The work had begun following directives from Egyptian president Abdel Fattah al-Sisi “to immediately start implementing the proposed development plan and put in place a timetable for completion as soon as possible”, the SCA said on Saturday.
The grounding of the 440-metre-long Ever Given container ship in a southern section of the canal from 23 to 29 March delayed the passage of hundreds of vessels through the waterway, disrupting global trade.
The new project will extend the two-way section south of the Great Bitter Lake and will be carried out in part by the largest dredger in the Middle East, the Mohab Mamish, which arrived in Egypt last month.
While the plan is to lengthen and deepen the canal, it certainly won’t be 440-meters wide and it still might not be enough to fool the laws of physics, as our writer Mercedes Streeter explained:
Ships displace their own weight in water. This isn’t that big of a deal if the ship is small or is out on the open ocean. But it matters when a big ship is shoved into a confined space like the Suez where water is displaced up and around the hull, where it travels faster relative to the ship than the rest of the water in the canal. Bernoulli’s Principle states that an increase in speed of a fluid occurs at the same time as a decrease in pressure. This principle is also part of how aircraft wings generate lift.
When big ships like the Ever Given travel near a bank, fast moving water on the bank side can tug them toward that bank. That phenomenon is called Bank Effect. The fast moving water under the ship can also suck it down toward the bottom of the waterway, which is sometimes called the Squat Effect.
...the basic phenomena are not exactly unknown and it’s not like the Ever Given is the only ship to have encountered them. What is interesting is that today’s gigantic ships behave differently in narrow/shallow waters than their smaller forbears do, and the impact of these forces on them isn’t actually all that well understood as this article from the Wall Street Journal explains.
The video shows that there’s a lot more to navigating the Suez than you might assume. Add in a strong crosswind or a mechanical failure and its easy to see how managing the incredible forces at work could get out of hand quickly. It’s not like you can just slam on the brakes when something starts to go wrong.
The investigation into what cause the Ever Given to get stuck in the canal is still ongoing.
You’d think after stinking up their canal for six days the Authority would be happy to see the Ever Given sail off into the sunset, but you’d be wrong. The Ever Given is still impounded nearly two months later, with thousands of containers on board in the Great Bitter Lake as the SCA waits for money to come its way. The Canal Authority recently cut its asking price for the release of the ship by $300 million, according to Insider. The SCA was charging the Ever Given’s insurers $300 million over “loss of reputation.” I mean, it’s not like a cargo ship can take its business to another canal, loss of reputation or no, the Suez is still the only game in town. The SCA is now seeking a cool $600 million before the Ever Given will be allowed on its way.