Cape Town Table Mountain (Photo by Hoberman Collec
Cape Town. (Photo by Hoberman Collection/Universal Images Group via Getty Images)
  • As the Suez blockage continues, some of the world's largest container ships are shifting course towards the route around South Africa.
  • Among them, a sister ship of the Ever Given, which has been stuck in the canal since Tuesday.
  • At one stage last year, container traffic around the Cape of Good Hope route was the busiest in decades.
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Some of the world’s biggest container ships have changed course in recent hours, and are now heading towards the coast of South Africa as the Suez Canal remains blocked.

Among them is the "mega ship" Ever Greet, which is operated by the same Taiwan-based company (Evergreen) as the Ever Given, which remains stuck in the canal.

Ever Given ran aground on Tuesday morning following high winds and a huge dust storm.

Local services have tried to clear the sand and mud from around the ship, while tugboats have been deployed to try and shift the vessel. These have not managed to move the ship out of its stuck position yet.

The Ever Given, trapped in the Suez Canal, Egypt, as of Thursday March 25 2021. Suez Canal Authority
The Ever Given, trapped in the Suez Canal, alongsi
The Ever Given, trapped in the Suez Canal, alongside two tugboats as of Thursday March 25 2021. Suez Canal Authority

At 400-metres long, the Ever Given is more than twice the length of Johannesburg’s iconic Ponte City apartment tower.

On Friday, Bloomberg reported that the vessel may only be dislodged by Wednesday next week. This is causing large supply-chain problems, as some 12% of global trade moves through the canal. According to the news service, some 7% of seaborne grain shipments from the US will be delayed due to the blockage.

More than 90 vessels pass through the canal on a typical day, and with queues building, some of the world’s largest ships have changed course away from the Suez, and towards the Cape of Good Hope instead.

A view of cargo vessels and ship traffic by Friday midday, as tracked by the platform MarineTraffic.

For a typical trip from Singapore to Rotterdam, this means a 3,500km longer route, while adding around 10 to 15 days extra in sailing time. 

The Ever Greet, which is the same size as the Ever Given, was one of the first large ships to change course. It was heading from London to Singapore via the Suez canal, but has now shifted direction towards South Africa.

On Friday morning, the international vessel tracking platform FleetMon reported that another ultra-large container ship, the HMM Rotterdam, was on her way from China to the Netherlands, but made a U-turn around Gibraltar to head away from the Suez towards the Cape.

The Hyundai Prestige has also changed course away from the Suez Canal to the Cape, on her way from Thailand to the UK, the shipping platform Marine Traffic reported. This will add 25 days to the ship’s trip.

Despite the longer time at sea, the route around South Africa saw the highest number of container ships in decades in February to May last year, the shipping news platform Global Maritime Hub reported. This was due to a sharp fall in fuel prices, as well as Suez Canal toll rates, which made the Cape detour more cost-effective. In reaction, the Suez Canal Authority introduced a new toll rebate scheme.

There are doubts whether Cape Town harbour in particular will be in a position to benefit from increased traffic. It has been beset with delays in processing ships and freight since last year and strong winds have also disrupted traffic to the harbour. Accordingly, a number of large container ships and shipping lines have reportedly bypassed Cape Town in recent months.

But Terry Gale, chairman of the Exporters Club in the Western Cape, told Business Insider this week that while there are still delays at the harbour, the situation has improved. 

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