The Ever Given incident

The Ever Given is a huge container ship, Japanese-built, owned and operated by the Taiwanese company Evergreen Marine Corporation. On the 23rd of March this year the Ever Given ran aground at the Red Sea end of the Suez Canal, near Suez, clogging the canal and blocking scores of ships from transit through the canal. As of 3 Apr, with this update, the ship has been refloated and the canal cleared. The operator of the ship has apologized for the incident, and will probably have to pay out BIGLY for interruptions to shipping and for re-floating the ship. But this story is about more than a simple, if costly, shipping incident.

Looking at the chart of the incident (below, bigger), we see it was an accident waiting to happen, which we will cover shortly.

The Wikipedia entry on the incident has the following details:

At 07:40 Eastern European Time (UTC+2) on 23 March 2021, the ship was passing through the Suez Canal on its way to Rotterdam from Tanjung Pelepas when it became stuck and blocked the canal. According to a statement by the Suez Canal Authority, the ship ran aground diagonally after losing the ability to steer amid high winds and a dust storm. In a separate statement, Evergreen Marine said that it had been told the ship “was suspected of being hit by a sudden strong wind, causing the hull to deviate from [the] waterway and accidentally hit the bottom”. The ship ended up with its bow wedged in one bank of the canal and its stern nearly touching the other.

The ship had been running fifth in a northbound convoy, with fifteen vessels behind it when it ran aground. Traffic in both directions was and remains blocked, leading to a traffic jam of over a hundred vessels…all 25 crew are safe and accounted for. All crew are Indian nationals and remain on board. And there had been “no reports of injuries or pollution”. Egyptian meteorologists reported that high winds and a sandstorm had affected the area on the day of the grounding, with winds gusting as much as 50 kilometres per hour (31 mph).

There are several questions that immediately arise about the incident, as in;

  • How can a wind of 31 mph cause a ship that large to veer off course and run aground?
  • Was there any funny business involved?
  • Was the crew incompetent?

The answer to the last two points preceding are no, and no. There is a simple answer to the incident, along with possibly another, and it is a two-fold exercise in simple physics. The first part of the exercise involves air pressure due to wind. Anyone who has been outside in high winds knows wind can pack a lot of force. The total force of wind depends on the speed of the wind, the altitude (air is thinner at higher altitudes) and the total surface area and shape of the object against which the wind is blowing.

A square foot contains 144 square inches. So, a small pressure, say .015 psi, exerts a total force of just over two pounds on a square foot of surface area, or about a kilogram. That figure roughly corresponds to the force of a 31 mph wind at sea level against a flat surface, which is essentially what we have with a vessel like a large container ship. That may not seem like much, but then we have to look at the size of the vessel.

Given the ship’s dimensions (1312 ft. in length with a freeboard average height of 60 feet fully laden, we are looking at over 70 metric tonnes of force exerted by a wind of 31 mph, mixing measuring systems. In a floating vessel, it takes little comparative force to move it. That is not counting the surface area of the containers. Anyone who has tried to drive a vehicle with a trailer in windy conditions can testify as to the power of the wind and the dangers involved.

One can test the preceding for oneself. Take a heavy object, place it on the ground and then try to push it. Due to friction, it takes a lot of force to move a heavy object on the ground. Now, of one were to place the same object in a small boat or raft, it becomes buoyant, with little friction. One can then easily move such an object in the water with one’s finger. i.e. with little pressure. It is also interesting to read the accounts of ship captains who have had to pilot large ocean-going vessels through canals.

So, we see already there was significant pressure exerted on the ship from the wind that day. Also, the wind was a sandstorm, which would have added to the force against the ship as well as reducing visibility sharply on the day. The crew would have had a hard time seeing the sides of the canal during a sandstorm. Then, there is a little factor called the bank effect, which is a hydrodynamic phenomenon. If the ship had veered too close to the banks of the Suez, which is very likely, the effect is the hull of the ship would have been literally sucked into the bank of the canal, which is what happened (from the previous link).

Water moves differently around a boat in a tight canal than it does in the open ocean. When water gets squeezed between the hull and the sand, the water accelerates, and its pressure drops /2 When the hull gets too close to the bank, the pressure drop sucks the hull in to the bank. This is called the “bank effect.” In shallow water, like in the Suez, the stern moves toward the bank, but the bow moves away. The boat spins. /3 The bigger the hull, the more water it displaces, the stronger the effect. The closer the hull is to the bank, the stronger the effect. So big, wide boat = strong bank effect. And container ships are getting HUGE. /4

The Suez is narrow where the ship got stuck, as we see below:

From all the preceding, then, we see there was probably simply a combination of events that day which amounted to a big problem for the crew, the canal authorities and shipping through the canal. Also mentioned was the possibility of another factor that may have taken place, and that may have been instrument failure. Now we can look at the chart. Certain features stand out.

The three immediate indicators of the incident are Uranus on the Ascendant in the 12th house, Pluto partile the MC and Saturn squaring the Horizon axis, all indicators, combined, of a major incident, though not necessarily violent (Mars is not directly involved and we do not see midpoints showing major violence).

The incident was on a waterway, shown by the Moon in Cancer, with Cancer on the IC, opposing Pluto. We would also look at Neptune in that regard, and we find Neptune in Pisces in the 11th house in partile trine to the Moon. The Moon and Neptune are the dual planetary rulers for ships and shipping. The ninth house (long distance travel and commerce), Sagittarius and Jupiter also figure in the more commercial aspects of such trade.

The combination of Moon and Neptune just described pretty much rules out sabotage. Instead, what we see is confusion, shown by the midpoint, indicating deception – “sand in one’s eyes”. The 12th house is not heavily or adversely activated, being co-ruled by Neptune and Mars, with Neptune as the primary ruler.

However, with the above considered and looking at the total picture of the chart, we are likely to find out later, after investigations, that there may have been some cover-up, or perhaps instrument malfunction which will be blamed. Instrument malfunction would be shown by Uranus (electronics and technology) in the 12th house (misfortunes) squared by Saturn (restrictions, downfalls), though separating by square, in Aquarius (technology, again). We cannot entirely rule out subterfuge, either, since we see Pluto partile the MC in the 10th house. There is a lot of money involved here and the active parties with the ship stand to pay out heavy losses as a result of the incident, bringing us to the wider picture.

Saturn rules the 9th and 10th houses in the incident chart and is trine Mars. In turn, though, Mercury squares Mars, which brings in the wind aspect, and in Egypt we are talking about hot air and sand storms (Mercury and Mars combined). Mercury and Uranus rule the wind, with Mercury ruling smaller winds and Uranus ruling strong winds. We have a combination of both in this chart, with Mercury in Pisces further emphasizing the water aspect of the event. Uranus on the Ascendant points to strong winds, but also to disruption in finances, being in Taurus. And then, with Mars in Gemini, an air sign, we have the hot wind blowing the ship off course. There is more we could say, but this will suffice. From here we move on to the financial side of the matter. Consider the following:

Container ships of this size are likely insured for hull and machinery damage of $100-140 million, insurance sources say. The ship was insured in the Japanese market, two of the sources said. The cost of the salvage operation is also borne by the hull and machinery insurer. “It is potentially the world’s biggest ever container ship disaster without a ship going bang,” one shipping lawyer, who declined to be named, said.

We have a small example of what would happen if a major shipping passage or lane were to suddenly be closed off, say because of a war or sabotage. This incident should serve as a warning in that respect. Continuing:

In addition, owners of the cargo on board the ship and on other ships stuck in the Canal will likely claim from the ship’s liability insurer for losses to perishable goods or missed delivery deadlines, the sources said. “If you have a constant build-up of ships, there are massive supply chain issues,” said Marcus Baker, global head, marine and cargo at insurance broker Marsh.

UK P&I Club said in an emailed statement to Reuters that it was the protection and indemnity insurer for the Ever Given, but declined to comment further. This segment of insurance covers ships against pollution and injury claims. The bulk of those insurance claims will then likely be reinsured through a programme run by the wider International Group of P&I Clubs…

Insurance costs and liability, though large in this case, are not the main concern, though. There are two vital waterways in the area if the Suez – the Suez itself and the Strait of Hormuz. Here are some stats about the Suez:

  • Around 50 ships go through the canal every day
  • About 10% of shipping worldwide goes through the canal
  • Nearly 30% of container shipping passes through the Suez
  • Blockage of the canal was costing $400 million/hr
  • Oil prices for Brent crude shot up 6% as a result of the blockage
  • The majority of oil transported by sea goes through the Suez
  • The canal links Europe and Asia via shipping
  • The countries most affected by a blockage are European and the US and Canada
  • Refined petroleum products from Europe to Asia pass through the canal
  • Most oil and LNG from Asia passes through the canal

From the preceding points, we see this is not just an amusing little incident. In the Aries letter there was a brief piece on the Suez and its relation to Israel (topic: “The Suez and Israel”) and Middle East policy. We are now seeing one of the reasons why there is such an emphasis on security around the canal. We also see why neighboring states and large powers in Asia would want to have a way to bypass such choke points into the future. Belt and Road Initiative/oil and gas pipelines direct, anyone? The Russian Arctic Route as well? And why would the Western powers be so keen to keep the Suez as the main shipping route? Well, it is not so difficult to figure out. It is a big reason why the US keeps talking about its ‘security interests’ in the Middle East.

It has been a rather eye-opening incident in many respects. We can probably expect a strong push now to make the canal two-way or to widen it at the very least. But for the weeks ahead, we will soon see the carry-on effects of such a blockage in trade, coming as it does on the heels of trade disruption from the pandemic – higher prices at the pump and in the stores. This incident has been but one of the ‘sudden events’ outlined in the Aries ingress post for this year. No doubt, we can expect more of such events to come in the weeks to follow.

Featured pic from Wikimedia Commons

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