Cork maritime lawyer: I warned Suez was a crisis waiting to happen

Cork maritime lawyer: I warned Suez was a crisis waiting to happen

The stranded container ship Ever Given, one of the world's largest container ships,  after it ran aground  in the Suez Canal on March 26. Picture: Reuters

A world-renowned international maritime lawyer, from Cork, has said he warned governments that a crisis on the Suez Canal was only a matter of time, due to a lack of necessary equipment.

It comes as a mega-ship, the MV Ever Given, has blocked the Egyptian canal after it became wedged diagonally, putting a halt on one of the world's most important trade routes. It ran aground on Tuesday. 

Michael Kingston, from Goleen, Co Cork, raised the issue about a lack of salvage equipment in place to aid and assist the increasingly large container vessels in 2013, after a “near-miss” situation, where the massive MV Emma Maersk took on water as it entered the canal.

“It was only a matter of time before something like this would happen,” he said.

Mr Kingston, managing director of Michael Kingston Associates and a consultant with the United Nations International Maritime Organisation, confirmed there is now a position where there is no equipment readily available to remove the ship’s cargo and unburden it, allowing it to be moved.

It's obvious that as time has gone by that she's pretty well stuck and she's going to have to be lightened. 

"There's talk of removing her bunkering but each of these crates, 20,000 of them, are laden with cargo and are of massive weight,” Mr Kingston said.

Mr Kingston said it is looking more likely that crates will have to be removed in order to lighten the vessel, but added that they can't just remove some from the bow and some from the stern, as this would put the ship at risk of bucking or becoming unbalanced.

“They'll have to uniformly remove a whole layer on the top, to try and lighten her so that they can dislodge her,” Mr Kingston said.

He said it could be some time before the ship can be moved in this manner. “When you don't have the equipment in place, how are they going to do it? They'll have to build some sort of structure to try and lift these crates off at an enormous height."

Mr Kingston said he and his colleague, Peter Townsend, formerly of Swiss Re and chair of the London Insurance Market’s Joint Hull Committee, did their best to warn of this potential crisis.

After Lloyd's of London released a report, 'The Challenges and Implications of Removing Shipwrecks in the 21st Century', in 2013, the pair called on governments to support the introduction of a 10c  levy per container which would be used to build a fund to have the salvage equipment in place. 

Mr Kingston said the request was rejected.

We're now in a situation where this has affected the whole of world trade. 

"If you look at the vessels that are backed up now, it's crazy. It's affecting the whole world in terms of our supply chains.,” Mr Kingston said.

He said the fallout from this will be felt in Ireland, as stock, manufacturing ingredients, and other cargo affected is “undoubtedly” bound for Ireland.

“Components for manufacturing, ingredients for the pharmaceutical industry, everything that you can think of and that's just on that ship itself, not to mention the other hundreds that are affected."

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