Freed from mounds of sand and mud, Ever Given glided north to Great Bitter Lake, and life after single-handedly blocking a crucial trade route.
His escort was a flotilla of small but powerful tugs. As the Ever Given floated, doing its best not to move at the risk of running aground again, a dozen tugs pushed and pulled the large container ship on Monday with the unlikely force of honey bees carrying loads. several times their size. The large navigation vessel – unscathed, according to the divers, by its five-day wash on the sandy shores of the Suez Canal – floated passively as the tugs lifted with the force of 3,000 to 4,000 power engines.
From its new position at Great Bitter Lake, a wide point in the canal, other navigation vessels could pass the Ever Given skyscraper while it underwent further inspections. Trade through the Suez Canal resumed.
When the story of #TheBoat is told, there is no doubt: the little boats will come out like heroes.
All salute the humble tugboat. Perpetually dwarf and still above her weight, the ship’s grand liberation from the Suez Canal finally gave the world’s oft-overlooked workboat her moment to shine.
At a time when more and more people were already paying attention to shipping disruptions due to the pandemic, the blocking of the channel by Ever Given has highlighted both the necessity and the fragility of the global maritime network.
It’s unclear exactly how the large ship got stuck in sandbanks at a narrow point in the canal, but it’s clear there was never just one way to get it out. The logistics and sophisticated schedules around the world must be damned – to dislodge this ship would require dredging the sand beneath it, and simply pushing and pulling by working boats, however long it takes.
Every day, the tugs do the dirty work in the ports. The Port of Vancouver, the third largest port in North America and the most important for commerce in Canada, could not function as it does without the harbor tugs that pick up the container ships and bring them to the port. Almost 30% of the boats that arrived at the Port of Vancouver in the past 30 days were tugs, and the Port Authority estimates that there are over 100 tugs that service the port regularly.
For those who work with tugs, watching the Ever Given dislodgement was like marveling at the kind of puzzle that could come up once in a lifetime.
Mark Mulligan, naval architect and founding partner of Capilano Maritime Design Ltd., which designs tugs and other work boats, says he has crossed the Suez Canal on several occasions and knew right away that Ever Given wouldn’t be stuck forever.
“We never thought of a total disaster,” he said. “You buried it in the sand, not in the rock. So we knew it was a matter of time and getting the big tug out.
And if a tug seems an uneven match for the 224,000 ton container ship, Mulligan will tell you that a tug’s small size is part of its strength.
“They are powerful, they have big engines. They are small and therefore easy to handle, ”he said.
If anything could draw the world’s attention to the strength of the little guy in the shipping industry, it could be this story, he said.
“These are the work ships,” he said of the tugs and dredges. “And you have one of the biggest ships in the world stuck in the narrowest channel. “
Early Monday, a video began circulating on the social networks of a dozen men celebrating the freedom always given by chanting “Mashhour is number one.”
The enthusiastic and smiling men, who jumped up and down and put their hands in the air with the canal visible in the background, were identified as the crew of the Mashhour – the dredging vessel whose job it was to move the sand in which the Ever Donné was stuck.
It was a proud moment for the naval workers, who rarely have the opportunity to bow down for their work.
Daniel Gould, a tug engineer off the coast of Washington, said it could be a time when the public appreciates the humble tug a little more.
“We’re kind of that secret industry,” he said. “It’s very discreet. But it’s vital – like trucking, railways, or air freight.
Gould said he didn’t really stop to imagine what it would have been like to be on one of the tugs that helped free Ever Given. He guessed that there was a lot of coordination going on, telling the tug crews when to push or pull the boat.
As an engineer, he said, it would have been his job to hold the winch for the ropes connecting the tug to the ship.
“We operate in a lot of very stressful situations, and you just have to deal with them,” he said. “In these situations, it’s tunnel vision. Everyone is just trying to get the job done. “
He laughed when he saw people posting on social media, saying things like “just push the boat”. He knows it’s not that simple. But he was happy when he saw the footage of Ever Given floating out of the way.
At that point, logistics and shipping professionals around the world probably cried in relief. The makers of internet memes mourned the end of a golden age. And all were speechless at the humiliation of our modern world trading system, brought down by the ineptitude of a towering symbol of world capitalism, and released by the pushing, pulling and dredging of serving ships.