- Meteomatics’ AG has calculated Ever Given’s wind drag at the time of the collision which infers that the grounding was inevitable, considering the strong wind gusts, Ever Given’s surface area and available engine power.
- The International Maritime Organisation (IMO) has already launched an investigation into what could have caused the grounding of the Ever Given.
Tuesday (23rd March) at around 05:40 UTC, one of the world’s largest container ships, ran aground and blocked the Suez Canal for six days, significantly impacting global trade and making headlines around the world.
It’s important that no conclusions on the grounding of the Ever Given are made before the Internal Maritime Authority and the Suez Canal Authority (SCA) have completed their official investigations. However, Meteomatics’ AG wants to help other container ships and port authorities avoid similar incidents occurring in the interim by highlighting how the combination of high winds and narrow waterways limit options available to mitigate adverse weather events. These events can result in ships having insufficient engine power to hold their position and endanger the safety of vessels.
How strong were the winds at the time of the incident?
Early accounts of the Ever Given incident support the view that high winds could have been one of the main causes of the incident, with Ever Given’s Technical Manager, Bernhard Schulte reporting that: “initial investigations rule out any mechanical or engine failure as a cause of the grounding” (source: Business Insider). Later on the same day, the SCA announced that the ship had lost the ability to steer amid high winds and a dust storm.
A closer look at the wind conditions showed that the giant containership, which measures 59 meters wide and 16 meters 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 a comparison of wind speed and wind gusts (knots) in Meteomatics API over the Suez Canal (23/03)
Chart 2: showing wind direction (degrees) of wind gusts in Meteomatics API over the Suez Canal around the time of accident 05:00 UTC (23/03).
Chart 3: visualization of wind speed, and wind barbs @ 850 hPa. Illustrating the low-pressure system that caused the high wind speeds around the time of accident 05:00 UTC 23/03)
Did the high winds make grounding inevitable?
The theory of the ship encountering difficulty with the strong winds is supported by information on the ship's last known speed before the grounding was 13.5 knots, higher than the canal’s speed limit of around 7.6 knots. High speeds can be used to mitigate the impacts of strong high wind speeds on the vessels, according to experienced captains, as reported by Bloomberg.
A closer look at the impact of wind gusts on the ship reveals that the Ever Given stood little chance of avoiding the bank once it entered the Suez Canal during the early hours of Tuesday morning, 23rd March.
The size of the ship and its cargo created a significant surface area making it vulnerable to strong wind gusts. In the open ocean vessels can correct for strong wind by offsetting their course to maintain stability. However, the width of the Suez Canal restricts the angle of attack to around 10° . Therefore, the Ever Given would have had to rely on its bow engines to push against the offshore winds. It appears from Meteomatics calculations that the Ever Given did not have anywhere close to the engine power required to maintain a stable position against such strong wind gusts.
Ever Given’s wind drag required power beyond the capacity of its engines to avoid the disaster.
The wind drag is F=1/2 c_w *A * rho * v^2. The necessary power to hold its position (against the wind) is P = 1/2 c_w *A * rho * v^3 / eta * sin (alpha), where alpha is the angle of attack. Estimating the surface area A = 400m * 46m and the drag coefficient c_w = 2. The density ratio is calculated. 1.16 . eta is an efficiency factor that is lower than 0.5. Allowing for an estimation of the required power at 60 MW, against the crosswind and orthogonal to the direction of travel.
Yet Ever Givens’ main engine is only 60 MW which is predominantly used for forward propulsion, the 2 bow engines that can be used to counter offshore winds have a power output of 2.5 MW, giving the Ever Given little chance of being able to counteract the strong offshore gusts, pushing the vessel towards the bank.
How can similar accidents be avoided in the future?
Meteomatics' wants to highlight the vulnerability of large ships to strong winds and the risk of maintaining a safe position in narrow waterways and often vital trade routes, such as the Suez and Panama Canal. Thankfully, these dangers can now be avoided by the supply of accurate and consistent weather information via new API data dissemination technologies.
The delivery of weather information has undergone a significant transformation in recent years, quickly making some traditional methods of sharing a forecast appear very outdated, such as receiving forecasts over large areas delivered over the radio, or raw GRIB files sent over satellite communications. These old methods of sharing weather information all require human interpretation to understand the risk to the ship and therefore can bring inconsistencies between those involved in maintaining the safe operation of vessels and critical trade arteries.
New methods of disseminating weather data are now beginning to be adopted by the Maritime industry. These offer a significant opportunity to improve the safety of ships and the management of vital trade arteries by port authorities across the globe. Meteomatics’ Weather API, is one of the richest and most consumable weather API’s available today, providing the Marine Industry with access to an accurate and consistent understanding of the global weather situation.
Meteomatics weather and ocean data sets are available through an easy-to-access, single API endpoint that can be quickly integrated into existing software and data infrastructures. Enabling organizations to build a consistent understanding of weather impacts, by accessing the same weather data to provide a single source of truth and better support operational decision making.
Chart 4: Meteomatics API Route Query, Sydney to Rotterdam
Meteomatics’ API also features an innovative method of reducing the complexity and size of data that is dynamic in nature, through route-based API queries. Meteomatics’ route-based forecasts provide weather information for all maritime parameters of interest along a ship’s route, at the time(s) the data is required, to optimize the amount of data required to provide an accurate forecast.
The grounding of the Ever Given, may lead to the maritime industry transforming how it ingests weather data to improve safety and make more informed operational decisions. Private weather companies like Meteomatics offer the maritime industry the opportunity to transform and make operational decisions informed by real-time weather data, to avoid costly incidents like the Ever Given occurring in the future.