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How a Full Moon Helped Free the Giant Container Ship From Suez Canal

How a Full Moon Helped Free the Giant Container Ship From Suez Canal

A view of the earth-moving equipment excavating sand near the bow of the Ever Given container ship, in Suez Canal. Photo: Maxar Technologies/Handout via Reuters

New Delhi: A 1,300-foot container ship – Ever Given – veered off-course and lodged in the Suez canal in Egypt on March 23, Tuesday. This blocked transit in both directions through one of the world’s busiest shipping channels for oil and refined fuels linking Asia and Europe, Reuters reported.

This was a major setback for global trade as the Suez Canal authority stopped all ships entering the channel, according to the report.

Salvage teams hoped to take advantage of the full moon and swelling tides on Sunday to dislodge the stuck cargo ship stuck, according to NPR.

During a full phase, the Moon is in direct alignment with the Sun, with either Earth or the Moon in the middle of the three. Its gravitational pull adds onto that of the Sun. Water moves most easily in response to this pull, and this results in high tides being higher and low tides being lower, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA).

These are called ‘spring’ of ‘king tides’ and happen twice a month, according to Business Insider.

The Moon was also relatively close to Earth as it would reach the closest point to Earth in its orbit on March 30, Tuesday. This also amplified the extreme tides caused by the Moon, according to NOAA.

The Moon orbits Earth in an oval shape. At its farthest point, it is about 2,53,000 miles from Earth. At its closest to Earth, it is about 30,000 miles nearer. Sunday night witnessed the first full moon in March. By some definitions, it also counted as a supermoon, according to Business Insider.

Water levels were set to rise a foot-and-a-half higher than normal high tides, according to a report by The Wall Street Journal.

Rory Jones, reporter for The Wall Street Journal, reported that the salvage engineers had a narrow window as the effect of the tide would only last a few days, adding that it would be their best shot at freeing up the canal.

The high tide caused by this alignment made it easier to pull the vessel out from canal without unloading a large number of the 18,000 or so containers, according to the report.

Also read: Ever Given: The Physics of Big Ships Clogging the Suez Canal

Yusri Mohamed from Reuters reported that with COVID-19 last year, trade volumes were hit by high rates of ship cancellations, shortages of containers and slower handling speeds at ports. The Suez blockage added to this disruption in world trade.

The dredging work to remove 15,000-20,000 cubic metres of sand surrounding the bow was underway to return the ship to a draft of 12-16 metres at which it could be refloated, the Suez Canal authority told Reuters.

According to a report by The New York Times, the costs of the closure grew by the day as salvage companies said that operations could resume only after the ship is completely dislodged, which they estimated would take weeks.

NPR reported that the traffic jam costed close to $10 billion per day.

Europe’s oil prices, which had fallen sharply in the previous session because of concerns around demand from fresh coronavirus lockdowns in Europe, rose by 4% by Friday, Reuters reported.

Indian exporters and importers use the Suez Canal for trade worth $200 billion with North America, South America and Europe, according to a report by LiveMint.

By Saturday afternoon, around a dozen tugboats had dredged 18 meters down into the canal’s eastern bank, New York Times reported.

Officials cautioned that the ship’s bow remained firmly planted in the soil and that the operation still faced significant hurdles.

Two separate attempts to refloat it over the weekend had failed, according to NPR.

“There were no reports of pollution or cargo damage and initial investigations ruled out any mechanical or engine failure as a cause of the grounding, Reuters reported.

Marshall Shepherd, senior contributor to Forbes Science, wrote that according to published reports, a strong sandstorm caused by winds greater than 40 miles per hour caused Ever Given to turn sideways.

According to NASA’s website Visible Earth, dust storms are common in this region due to the proximity of a number of deserts.

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