Cheers for a dredge! … unprecedented focus on the importance of maritime infrastructure

Posted on April 1, 2021

DredgeWire exclusive by Peter Bowe, Publisher

Here in America people are consumed with the annual college basketball extravaganza known as “March Madness;” folks cheer for their favorite team as “We’re number one!”

Around the world people are cheering for the Suez Canal Authority dredge Mashhour for saving the day in the Suez Canal.

If you think I’m exaggerating, I’m not. Just check out this fun 20 sec video of the dredge crew on the Mashhour taken this week:

Now that’s team enthusiasm.

As further evidence of this unprecedented preoccupation with all things dredging, the leading media company Axios reported this week that social media interest in the Suez Canal surpassed interest in the US border crisis, the US budget and political issues, and in fact everything except for “vaccines.” Axios and social media company Keyhole calculated that there were 25 billion Suez story impressions-basically every single person in the world looked at a digital story about the Suez Canal three times each last week. You are one more!

DredgeWire saw the same interest. Our posts with Suez updates received tens of thousands of views, by far the most we’ve ever had on any subject, and the most since our video of the offshore sinking of the Mindi, the Ellicott dredge built for the Panama Canal— still a chilling video to watch.

It’s important and helpful for us in the maritime communities that popular interest should catch up with global economic infrastructure realities:

—80% of global trade (some say as much as 90%) is conducted on ships

—10-15% of global trade goes through the Suez Canal

—Port congestion is becoming increasing problematic with a need to expand capacity all over

The big picture is that we need continued big investments around the world in all aspects of our maritime infrastructure: dredging, port expansions, port efficiencies in equipment and software, environmental shipping capacity, and security, and more.

As a history major it’s fun for me to insert a brief historical perspective into the recent Suez Canal crisis. The Suez Canal Authority bought the now-famous dredge Mashhour from IHC (now Royal IHC) in the 1990s. At the time it was the most powerful cutter suction dredger in the world.It also cost around $100 million which was quite controversial at the time—whether the SCA should commit such a massive sum on such a risky project. And now after two decades of steady service, it saves the day for the SCA which estimated that DAILY losses were somewhere between $10 and $15 billion! How’s that for return on investment?

And here’s one important insight I bet you haven’t read anywhere else:

Consider that the container ship Ever Given became stuck when traveling from the south, headed north toward the Mediterranean, making the Suez impassable from either direction, not just for ships but for rescue and salvage vessels.

Fortunately for all of us the Dredge Mashhour happened to be on the north side of the ship where it had to be to be effective in helping to excavate material around the ship’s bow. Who knows where we would be now if the ship had gotten stuck in a way that the dredge was on the wrong side? Almost a 50/50 proposition….

If you want to read an interesting narrative of how the ship was extracted and the problem solved, USA Today actually has quite a good summary in layman’s terms. You will also get to see an image of the ship inserted in the middle of Central Park New York (among the silliest comparisons I have seen) in case you have trouble visualizing just how big a 400m/1300 foot/220,000 ton vessel really is.

And if you haven’t gotten enough on the rescue, here’s a seldom-seen short video showing the Mashhour operating 24/7 right next to the Ever Given, in the thick of things, including views from inside the operator’s station.

So we can all be grateful that the problem was solved and that the visibility of this problem has highlighted the strategic and economic importance of maritime trade routes around the world for all of us. The hundreds of ships affected will now be on the move though it will take weeks and months to sort out the disruption to global trade.

Peter Bowe

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