On March 23, when the Ever Given ran aground in the middle of the Suez Canal, the risks induced by the gigantic size of the ships became apparent to the general public. Arriving from China, this 400-meter-long Taiwanese container ship, launched in 2018, was loaded with 20,000 boxes bound for Rotterdam (Netherlands). Announced at the Dutch port on May 31 by the MarineTraffic site, it is still retained by the Egyptian authorities
which have just revised downward the amount ($ 550 million) of damages claimed from the shipowner and its customers.
Ever given tracked in the Ouessant rail
The French authorities are watching for the moment when the dispute will be resolved. They intend to follow the Ever Given as soon as it points in sight of the Ouessant rail (29), the obligatory gateway to the Channel. Immediately, he will be tracked by the Cross Corsen, at the tip of Finistère, then by the Cross de Jobourg, at Cap de la Hague, and finally, by that of Gris-Nez, at the end of Pas-de-Calais. Their operators will cross the ship’s AIS data (its automatic radio authentication system), with images from their radars, or even information from coastal semaphores, where the sea is also scanned with binoculars.
75,000 ships per month in the Channel
This network of interconnected lookouts continuously monitors navigation on the world’s busiest motorway. A quarter of world traffic passes through the Channel. This flow of 75,000 vessels per month must coexist with the hundred or so which provide daily cross-Channel connections, with fishermen on erratic routes out of necessity (800 units listed) and, in fine weather, with pleasure boaters. The conditions are often delicate. The tidal currents are the most important in Europe. The prevailing West / North-West winds, strong for a third of the year, push ships towards the French coasts, where marine wind farms flourish: five are in the process of being installed and a sixth in the pipeline.
Maritime Prefect of the Channel, Vice-Admiral Philippe of the Dutrieux squadron, exercises his authority from Mont Saint-Michel to the Belgian border: “With Ever Given, we will be vigilant, ready to react. But we are not particularly worried. We are already seeing larger ships go by. The CMA-CGM Jacques Saadé container ship, present in Le Havre in January, carries 23,000 boxes ”.
For ten years the French “gendarmes” of this liquid highway have been considering the impact of gigantism on security, assures Commander Raphaël Fachinetti. He is the head of the Center of Expertise for Anti-Pollution Control Practices (CEPPOL), located in Brest, referent of the French Navy for pollution control, assistance to people and vessels in difficulty. The officer explains: “As the increase in tonnage goes hand in hand with the renewal of the fleets, our interventions are less frequent. On the other hand, the damage became more complex. For the Abeille Bourbon tug, which is pre-positioned in the vicinity of Ouessant, it may take four to five hours, in rough seas, to install a trailer on a very large vessel. In the end, that leaves very little margin before the grounding ”.
189 damage off Finistère in 2019
In 2019, the latest statistics known, 189 damage was reported on large vessels off Finistère, a third less than in 2018. This gave rise to one towing, two escorts and three missions on board the assessment teams. and intervention by CEPPOL. As a result of the studies carried out, France is bringing to the International Maritime Organization (IMO) a resolution obliging all large ships to imitate the supertankers which have a simplified towing mechanism capable of withstanding bad weather (8 meters troughs, 50 knots of wind). Without further ado, CMA-CGM, the world’s third largest shipowner, has decided to equip its mastodons. Insurers have the power to amplify the movement, underlines CEPPOL. Stricken with obsolescence, two of the four Abeille assistance and intervention tugs chartered by the French Navy will finally be replaced, in 2023, by units capable of towing the giants of the seas and picking up 300 people. For this maritime frontage, l’Abeille Languedoc, based in Boulogne, is concerned. Admiral Dutrieux, who regularly supervises scenarios to test the general safety system, explains that “changes in the regulations in the direction of more transparency in the loadings are necessary because if before intervening, we knew the more quickly the nature of the cargoes, in particular that of the containers, we would gain in efficiency ”.
* Talks between the Suez Canal Authority (SCA) and the owner of the “Ever Given” about compensation are not progressing. Last week, an Egyptian court confirmed the detention of the ship.
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The Franco-British “Mancheplan” cooperation agreement organizes the coordination of maritime security actions in the Channel. But only France has real dedicated intervention capacities. The French Navy keeps three helicopters on permanent alert (two Caïman marine, in Lanvéoc-Poulmic (29) and Maupertuis, and a Dauphin, in Touquet) and three powerful Abeille tugs (“Bourbon” in Brest, “Liberté” in Cherbourg and “ Languedoc ”in Boulogne). These resources are supplemented by two anti-pollution vessels (in Brest and Cherbourg), also capable of towing 200 m hulls. For the device under the Premar de la Manche, the annual bill amounts to 23 million euros. A cost to be compared to that of the damage avoided thanks to these means, underlines Admiral Dutrieux: “An annual study conducted in my area of responsibility shows that one euro invested makes it possible on average to avoid 240 euros in damage. Concretely, each month, we prevent two accidents ”. As in aeronautics, the human factor is often the cause of incidents at sea.