Suez canal: backlog caused by Ever Given blockage could take days to clear as ship heads to Great Bitter Lake

There is likely to be an inquiry into the incident, which could result in changes to the Suez Canal’s protocols

Clearing through the backlog of ships left by the blockage could take Egyptian authorities around four or five days (Photo: Suez Canal Authority/PA Media)

The Ever Given cargo ship may be free from the banks of the Suez Canal – one of the world's busiest shipping lanes which it had been blocking for almost a week - but the disruption caused by the vessel is set to continue.

Clearing through the backlog of ships left by the blockage could take Egyptian authorities around four or five days.

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Traffic was due to start flowing again on Monday (29 March) as the ship was transported to the Great Bitter Lake, approximately a third of the way up the canal, to be assessed.

With crews working full out, it will take until the weekend to get the approximately 400 ships that are lined up on each side of the canal through, said Peter Aylott, director of policy at the UK Chamber of Shipping.

“When [the Ever Given is in] the lake, traffic can then start moving,” he said. “They can move about 100 vessels a day, but it depends on resources, and it depends on the weather.”

‘Shipping is incredibly resilient’

The blockage caused by the Ever Given – run by Taiwan’s Evergreen Marine Corporation – is likely to result in delays to some products reaching Europe, but estimating the real impact is difficult as what is onboard the ships is not public knowledge.

But cargo ships often factor in several days of delays into the itineraries, due to everything from bad weather to breakdowns.

“Overall, shipping is incredibly resilient, normally speaking shipments that are travelling up and down the world have a two to five or six-day tolerance,” Mr Aylott said. “Consequently, the fact that we’re on day six means that probably the markets will cope without too much issue.”

Despite the limited time, the Suez Canal Authority and Egypt will have lost more than 95 million dollars (£69 million) in revenue, while ships having to divert around the Cape of Good Hope will spend an extra 400,000 dollars on fuel, according to figures from Refinitiv.

‘Don’t forget the seafarers’

It is still not entirely clear what exactly caused the Ever Given to run aground and block off the canal, however some reports indicated that a wind might have blown it off course.

There is likely to be an inquiry, which could bring longer-lasting impacts than the six-day delays; among these could be changes to how many tugboats are required to take ships through, or restrictions on transport depending on the weather.

However, the largest impact right now will be on the lives of the sailors manning the Ever Given, and the other ships delayed by the crisis.

Mr Aylott said: “Please don’t forget the seafarers. There are 20-odd crew onboard the Ever Given who will have been in very stressful conditions for the last six days.

“There’s a master on board that will be very worried about his future and whether this is going to result in some sort of action, maybe from Egyptian authorities.”