Container ship blockage in Suez Canal 'short-term event': ministry

03/26/2021 03:52 PM
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Photo from the Suez Canal Authority website https://www.suezcanal.gov.eg/
Photo from the Suez Canal Authority website https://www.suezcanal.gov.eg/

Taipei, March 26 (CNA) The Ministry of Economic Affairs has described the grounding of a large container ship in the Suez Canal as a "short-term event," in an attempt to pacify some members of the public in Taiwan who are concerned over an alleged shortage of toilet paper.

The 20,000 TEU Ever Given, leased by Taiwan's Evergreen Marine Corp. to Japanese company Shoei Kisen Kaish, ran aground on March 23, 6 nautical miles from the southern entrance of the canal. Two salvage teams have been deployed to the scene to re-float the vessel, but as of press time, no progress had been reported.

The incident sparked global market concerns over possible price rises due to possible supply shortages because of the shipment jam at one of the world's busiest waterways that connects the Mediterranean Sea to the Red Sea.

In Taiwan, rumor has emerged that the logjam could affect the supply of toilet paper because of a shortage of paper pulp, following foreign news reports that the bottleneck of ships at the Suez Canal could threaten global toilet roll shortages due to delivery delays for everyday household items.

According to Bloomberg, Suzano SA's Chief Executive Officer Walter Schalka said the firm was struggling to find vessels to transfer its products from the stricken ship. Suzano is the world's biggest producer of wood pulp, the raw material for toilet paper.

Asked by reporters about the rumor on Thursday, Minister of Economic Affairs Wang Mei-hua (王美花) said the container ship grounding is a one-off event.

"Big factories always keep enough paper pulp in stock," Wang said. Therefore, if the price of toilet paper is hiked, the main reason should not be the Suez Canal incident, she said.

According to the ministry, toilet paper producers around the nation have said they keep at least two months-worth of raw materials in stock when asked about their inventories. "There's no reason to worry about a supply shortage," she said.

In a statement released late the previous day, Evergreen Line said that the grounding situation of the time-chartered vessel has not been resolved, despite 48 hours of efforts to re-float the ship.

The shipowner has appointed two maritime professional rescue teams from the Netherlands (Smit Salvage) and Japan (Nippon Salvage), which will be working with the ship's captain and the Suez Canal Authority to design a more effective plan for re-floating the vessel as soon as possible, the statement said.

At present, the crew, ship and cargo are all safe, and no marine pollution has been caused, the shipowner was cited as confirming, adding that there had been no blackout resulting in loss of power prior to the ship's grounding.

"Evergreen Line will continue to coordinate with the shipowner and the Suez Canal Authority to deal with the situation with the utmost urgency, ensuring the resumption of the vessel's voyage as soon as possible and to mitigate the effects of the incident," the statement said.

"As the vessel is chartered, the responsibility for the expenses incurred in the recovery operation, third-party liability and the cost of repair (if any) is that of the owner," it noted.

Meanwhile, Shoei Kisen said on its website that although no efforts are being spared in trying to re-float the Ever Given, "the situation is extremely challenging."

As dredgers and tugboats have failed to free the giant cargo ship from the canal, the number of vessels stacked up and unable to pass through the vital waterway in Egypt has climbed to 150 and losses to global shipping is mounting, according to foreign wire reports.

About 12 percent of global trade passes through the Suez Canal, which provides the shortest sea link between Asia and Europe.

Market analyst Chen Kuo-ching (陳國清) cautioned that if the jam lasts for more than one week, global shipment prices could be hiked, particularly those on the Europe route.

(By Tsai Peng-min and Elizabeth Hsu)

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