With the Suez Canal Blocked, Shippers Go Around Africa

Shipowners begin to divert ships going to the Suez Canal around the African Cape of Good Hope. This is an expensive alternative to avoid the ship congestion caused by the huge container ship blocking the canal.

There is growing evidence that efforts to remove the Ever Given ship may take many days, if not weeks. More than 100 ships are already stuck at both ends, waiting for a free passage.

In deciding whether to divert, a shipping company will weigh the likely cost of sitting outside the canal for days against the additional time of steaming in Africa and other potential risks.

“It’s like choosing the queue at the post office. It’s never the right decision, ”said Alex Booth, head of research at Kpler, a company that pursues the oil shipping industry.

According to Kpler, seven giant liquefied natural gas carriers appear to have already decided to change course away from the canal.

One of these ships chartered by Royal Dutch Shell had picked up a load of gasoline at Sabine Pass in Texas and was on its way to the canal when it made a sharp turn in the Atlantic into Africa. Another, operated by Qatargas, a state-owned energy company, invited to Ras Laffan, the energy center in Qatar, and drove to Suez, but then turned towards the Cape of Good Hope before reaching the Red Sea.

Container ships are also changing their plans. According to NOH Ji-hwan, a spokesman for the company, the Korean shipping company HMM ordered one of its ships sailing from the UK to Asia via the Channel to travel to Africa instead.

Mr Booth said a ship already waiting on the canal was unlikely to trace all the way through Africa. That would mean a nearly six week trip to Amsterdam, the Netherlands, compared to just 13 days from the canal.

However, if the call is made at the beginning of a trip, it can make sense. For example, Kpler estimates that a trip from the Saudi oil terminal of Ras Tanura around the Cape would take 39 days, compared to 24 days via Suez.

Coupled with additional costs, the longer trip may involve increased risk including piracy off West Africa. Crews may also be unfamiliar with the waters around the southern tip of Africa, where the convergence of warm and cool currents creates turbulent and unpredictable conditions. Early Portuguese sailors called this region “the Cape of Storms”.

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