Meteomatics reveals what role weather could play in the unfolding emergency in the Suez Canal

Earlier this week, one of the world's largest container ships, weighing 200,000 tonnes and the length of four football pitches: got stuck in the banks of the Suez canal. The vessel's stranding has been blamed on strong wind gusts that blew the vessel off course.

In-fact a closer look at the wind conditions showed that the giant containership, which measures 59 metres wide and 16 metres deep below the waterline, sailed through the Suez Canal at a time when the canal was experiencing strong wind gusts! The chart below created by Meteomatics API shows that wind gusts peaked at the time it sailed (23rd March: 05:40 UTC) at 23.3 ms per second / 44.7 knots (7 on the Beaufort Scale - high winds, near gale force).

Chart 1: showing comparison of wind speed and wind gusts in Meteomatics API over the Suez Canal (23/03 - 26/03)

Chart showing comparison of wind speed and wind gusts in Meteomatics API over the Suez Canal (23/03 - 26/03)

Chart 2: visualization of wind gusts in Meteomatics API over the Suez Canal around time of accident 05:00 UTC 23/03)

Visualisation of wind gusts in Meteomatics API over the Suez Canal at time of accident 05:00 UTC 23/03)

The blockage of the ship represents a significant disruption to global trade, according to the shipping expert Lloyds List, the canal’s traffic is valued at roughly $9.6 bn a day, $400m per hour, estimated to account for 13% of global trade. 

Frantic efforts are underway to free the ship, which experts say could take many weeks as specialist teams and equipment are required to free a ship of this size, whilst the number of ships queuing to pass through the Canal grows by the day. In-fact concern is growing on the potential impact on global trade, with oil prices increasing as crude tankers join the flotilla of ships stuck outside the Canal carrying an estimated 13 million barrels of oil.

Shipping companies are actively looking to avoid their ships joining the queue and some have already rerouted around South Africa, adding up to 15 days to their journey time and bringing the risk of encountering more hazardous seas. South Africa is now in Autumn, with the risk of storms and high swell increasing, presenting navigational challenges and altering the risk profile for shipping companies and insurers alike.

A quick look at the forecast in Meteomatics API from 26th March until 28th March shows that there is a low pressure passing close to the southern tip of South Africa which brings strong & severe gales (9 on the Beaufort Scale) and high swell, with wave heights of more than 10 meters posing a risk to the safety of ships.

Animation showing wind gusts & Beaufort scale on the left and wave height on the right (24/03 - 28/03), created using Meteomatics API & visualized in MetX.

Due to the risk of strong winds affecting the southern ocean, Meteomatics recommends that all those involved in logistics and safety of shipping should closely monitor the weather situation around South Africa when making decisions on the re-routing of shipping and sailing past South Africa. 

Meteomatics AG is a private weather business, making a rich database of weather information and insights available to users across the globe, offering incredible detailed forecasts: downscaled to 90 meters and up to 5 minute temporal resolution. All through an easy to use RESTful API endpoint

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