Shipping companies stuck waiting near Suez Canal alerting US Navy over piracy risks
03/30/2021 // Ramon Tomey // Views

A number of shipping companies are reaching out to the United States Navy with regard to piracy concerns. The move followed the incident involving cargo vessel Ever Given becoming stuck in the Suez Canal in Egypt. Given the obstruction of a vital shipping artery, shipping firms are opting to take the alternative – a longer and riskier route around Africa.

A spokesperson for the U.S. Navy's Fifth Fleet confirmed the move by global shipping companies, saying that the firms have sent inquiries "over maritime security in the region." They have expressed concern regarding ships carrying cargo worth billions of dollars that make the detour and pass by the dangerous African coast. Shippers have also confirmed the inquiries regarding pirate attacks. Hong Kong Shippers' Council Chair Willy Lin said naval warships might be required to protect cargo vessels passing by the region.

The area is notorious for piracy, with the International Maritime Bureau (IMB) pointing out a rise in the number of pirate attacks in 2020. The IMB said in its 2020 annual report that a total of 195 attacks by pirates were recorded, up 33 from the 162 recorded in 2019. IMB Director Michael Howlett remarked that the increased attacks showed "the increased capabilities of pirates … with more and more attacks taking place further from the coast."

Given the situation, the White House said on March 26 that talks with Egypt are ongoing on how the U.S. could best support efforts to re-open the Suez Canal. Meanwhile, the U.S. Navy remarked that "there had not yet been an impact" on naval actions in the region -- but confirmed companies' concerns of possible risks involved in taking a different route.


Ships can drop anchor and wait until the Ever Given is dislodged, or take a longer detour which adds at least a week to total travel time. True enough, a number of shipping companies have started re-routing their cargo vessels around South Africa's Cape of Good Hope. But this results in ships being exposed to two piracy hotspots in the African continent – the Gulf of Guinea in the west and the Gulf of Aden in the east. (Related: Cargo thefts up during second quarter of 2020, threatening supplies of food and fuel.)

Suez congestion affecting global shipping even after blockage was cleared

The BBC reported on March 30 that traffic has resumed in the Suez Canal after the Ever Given was refloated the previous day. Boskalis CEO Peter Berdowski confirmed that the giant cargo vessel had been re-floated on the afternoon of March 29, "making free passage through the Suez Canal possible again." The Dutch salvage firm Berdowski heads helped in dislodging the cargo ship, almost a week after it blocked the canal.

Boskalis sent in a specialist salvage team and 13 tugboats – 11 harbor and two seagoing ones – to help get Ever Given back on the sea. Dredgers also helped out by removing 30,000 cubic meters of sand from below the ship. The tug boats honked their horns after successfully freeing the giant vessel.

The delays caused by the blockage of the Suez Canal are now impacting shipping firms with difficult decisions and rising costs. Around 12 percent of global trade passes through the canal in Egypt – and the blockage has impacted shipping schedules and costs.

AP Moller-Maersk CEO Søren Skou warned that urgently-needed goods would have to be sent by air due to the blockage. "For goods urgently needed, … they will have to be reproduced and air freighted. Ships that are there are going to have to wait," he said. More than 200 ships have anchored near Suez in north-east Egypt to wait out the blockage, with 137 more to follow within a five-day period.

Meanwhile, Hapag-Lloyd AG CEO Rolf Habben Jansen said it had diverted three allied vessels away from the canal. He remarked that "nothing can be done" about the goods on ships awaiting entry into the canal. Other options such as unloading them at alternative ports or transporting them by air or rail would be impractical, Jansen added. Even though the Ever Given has already been refloated, Jansen estimated that it would take "at least ... a few weeks" before congestion at the Suez Canal would subside. (Related: Global shippers now losing a billion dollars a month as pandemic-induced slump hits the world's product transport infrastructure.)

Visit to read more articles about the dangers of piracy that threatens cargo vessels.

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