What happened last week in the Suez canal?

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We’re pulling our weather forecast and AIS data and taking a closer look at last week’s event in the Suez Canal.

The world fixed its attention on a narrow stretch of the Suez Canal last week after the Ever Given, a 400-meter-long container ship, blocked the busy waterway.

AIS data from the Ever Given plotted over a satellite image of the Suez Canal illustrates the collision as it unfolded.

The ship ran aground just as the sun was rising on March 23rd when heavy gusts buffeted the 200,000-metric-ton vessel, and a sandstorm reduced visibility. Amid the high winds, the Ever Given collided with the bank and shut down the critical passage between the Red Sea and the Mediterranean Sea. Severe storms also closed ports in the region.

This WMS visualization illustrates 48 hours of wind activity in the Suez Canal region, from March 22nd (00:00 UTC) until March 24th (00:00 UTC). The speeds are measured in meters per second.

Spire forecasted these weather conditions the day before the collision. Spire’s weather forecast issued at 00:00 UTC on March 22nd predicted wind gusts at speeds of 13 meters per second (30 miles per hour) and above. Knowing about these kinds of hazardous conditions in advance could potentially mitigate such costly delays.

The blockage that lasted nearly a week disrupted global commerce, delaying $10 billion in trade a day and triggering a spike in oil prices, according to The New York Times. It brought hundreds of ships to a dead stop, holding up the delivery of everything from toilet paper to livestock.

We closely monitored the situation with our AIS and Maritime data, looking at ship movements in the area, the volume of ships in anchorage, and ship types. Using Spire Analytics, we created a dashboard that delivered alerts and daily reports directly to our emails. Below are some of the charts from this dashboard demonstrating the impact this event had on global trade and shipping.

This chart illustrates the cumulative number of vessels in key areas around the Suez Canal. By March 29th, over 120 vessels were waiting at Anchorage One.

This graph shows the number of unique vessels waiting in anchorage for more than three days at the canal, demonstrating the growing delay to global trade.

As gridlock grew, some shipping companies rerouted vessels around Africa’s southern tip, adding as much as two weeks to their journeys.

As this chart shows, most essential trade carrying vessels avoided the canal after March 25th.

This is just one example of how Spire Analytics layers actionable insights on to raw data, to create custom dashboards around a specific event, location, or fleet. If you would like to know more, please contact us.

Spire Weather predicted the desert winds that contributed to the costly delay using data collected from our constellation of nanosatellites. The devices make detailed observations of atmospheric conditions around the world through radio occultation measurements. This remote observation technique measures radio waves’ bending arcs to calculate the temperature, pressure, and humidity in thin bands of the atmosphere. The global data feeds our forecasting models, helping to boost the accuracy of our weather predictions.

At the same time, Spire’s more than 100+ satellites also track worldwide maritime traffic. For example, our Enhanced Satellite AIS service offers specialized coverage of high traffic zones, like the Suez Canal. These and other capabilities generate intelligent ship monitoring solutions. They allowed Spire Maritime to track the blockage as ships backed up on either side of the canal, including a detailed view of the Ever Given’s journey. Our solutions ensure the continual monitoring of traffic through the 120-mile waterway now that the passage is clear.

It took a fleet of tugboats, excavators, dredgers, and the tide to free the ship and undo the desert winds’ work. But not before a photograph of the ship’s giant bow dwarfing a digger made the rounds on the internet. The image conveyed the sheer enormity of the rescue operation that required the removal of 30,000 cubic meters of sand.

In the end, the saga reinforces the importance of using weather forecasts specialized for the maritime industry. Not only can weather forecasts help potentially mitigate costly delays, but they can also support efficient route planning which helps reduce transit time and save fuel. It is less costly than running aground in the Suez Canal.

Use the form above, to get the data sample we used for this analysis, the WMS visualization and the report from this data story.

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Contact us for more information on Spire Analytics. We design and operate our own constantly evolving satellite constellation and predictive models, giving you unparalleled access to maritime data you can act on.

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