Suez Canal Blockage and the Cement Industry


40 Stuck Carriers

As everyone already knows, the Suez Canal was blocked in late March 2021 when the gigantic 200,000dwt Ever Given got stuck and grounded, at around six nautical miles from the southern entry of the canal. The ultra large container vessel was subsequently refloated and towed away just under a week later. While this was happening the fate of the ship became a global news story with business analysts estimating the cost of the obstruction. 40 bulk carriers were reported as waiting to transit the waterway the day. After the blockage started and some of these were carrying cement. Reporting by the BBC noted that 369 ships were stuck waiting on either side of the blockage on the day before the ship was finally freed. The Suez Canal Authority (SCA) estimated their loss of revenue from the incident at US$14 – 15m/day. Analysts like Allianz placed the cost to the global economy at US$6 – 10bn/day.

In Sharan’s view the blockage of the Suez Canal happened at a potentially risky moment for cement and clinker shipping. Because there was already congestion in shipping lanes built up on the east coast of South America and around Australia. However, a delay of a week around the canal, followed by the resulting congestion dispersing quickly over the following days, does not seem to have had any major impact so far.

Pandemic Effects

Sharan’s presentation at Global CemTrans also included a summary of cement shipping. The key takeaways were that clinker shipping overtook cement shipping in 2019 with a connected increase in fleets investing in handymax-sized vessels. He also pointed out the key cement and clinker importing countries in 2019, before the coronavirus pandemic started causing market disruption. For cement: the US, the Philippines and Singapore. For clinker: China, Bangladesh and the Philippines. Turkey and Vietnam were the biggest exporters for both in that year.

The Ever Given incident has highlighted the continued importance of the Suez Canal for global trade for commodities. Goods still need to be physically moved around, however much stuff we digitise. It also contrasts with the issues that the Egyptian cement sector has faced in recent years such as production overcapacity. While domestic cement plants have struggled to maintain their profits, plenty of cement carriers have been transiting through the Isthmus of Suez. Local producers may well have gazed at them and wondered where they were going.

One of them, Al-Arish Cement Company, took action in this direction this week with its first export shipment of clinker. The Clipper Isadora ship disembarked East Port Said port for Ivory Coast. Future shipments are planned for West Africa, Canada, the US and Europe. Ship tracking reveals that the Clipper Isadora has not taken the Suez Canal on this occasion.

Source: Global Cement

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