How Vancouver-designed tugboats helped the Ever Given finally get unstuck

·3 min read
In this photo released by Suez Canal Authority, the Ever Given is seen being pulled by tugboats in the canal on March 29. Two Robert Allan-designed tugboats can be seen in the background. (AP - image credit)
In this photo released by Suez Canal Authority, the Ever Given is seen being pulled by tugboats in the canal on March 29. Two Robert Allan-designed tugboats can be seen in the background. (AP - image credit)

The ship that launched a thousand internet memes is now unstuck from the Suez Canal thanks in part to a Vancouver company.

Robert Allan Ltd. Naval Architects and Marine Engineers designed six of the 14 tugboats that helped pull and push the MV Ever Given free on Monday, ending a week of drama that started when the monster freighter got jammed across one of the globe's most important shipping routes.

Robert Allan's director of business development said although there was no high-fiving in the office when the Ever Given was finally set straight — mostly because the pandemic has everyone working from home — there was a sense of pride.

"You know, it's all part of a day's work," said Jim Hyslop. "Our tugs do that sort of work all day, every day, all over the world. But it was nice to see and we're happy to be part of the rescue effort."

WATCH | The Ever Given floats freely again:

Hyslop said it was interesting watching traditional business rivals collaborate to solve the crisis.

Two of the Robert Allan-designed tugs sent to the scene are owned by Danish company Svitzer, which is a subsidiary of Maersk Line — a major competitor of Evergreen Marine, the Taiwanese company that operates the Ever Given.

The other Robert Allan tugs in the mix are owned by the Suez Canal Authority.

Hyslop says the 100-foot, 7,000-horsepower workhorse vessels can push with about 80 tonnes of force.

Designed in Vancouver, the tugs were built in either Turkey or China and sell for about $10 million US.

This satellite image from Maxar Technologies shows the cargo ship MV Ever Given stuck in the Suez Canal near Suez, Egypt, on March 28.
This satellite image from Maxar Technologies shows the cargo ship MV Ever Given stuck in the Suez Canal near Suez, Egypt, on March 28. (Maxar Technologies/The Associated Press)

"Obviously, they're not particularly fast boats, but they're designed to pull very hard. They're a bit like a tractor you would find on a farm," he said.

The plight of the Ever Given — one of the largest container ships in the world — captivated global attention after it lost power in the middle of a sandstorm last Monday and slammed into the eastern bank of the canal.

The stranded Ever Given, one of the world's largest container ships, after it ran aground in the Suez Canal.
The stranded Ever Given, one of the world's largest container ships, after it ran aground in the Suez Canal.(Suez Canal Authority/Reuters)

The stern of the ship then drifted west and got stuck in the sand on the other side, completely blocking the movement of $9 billion US ($11.3 billion Cdn) worth of goods that normally pass through the Suez Canal every day.

Ships currently pass through the Suez Canal without tugboat escort, but Hyslop thinks officials might do well to re-evaluate the practice.

A Robert Allan designed tugboat owned by Danish company Svitzer pushes the MV Ever Given in the Suez Canal.
A Robert Allan designed tugboat owned by Danish company Svitzer pushes the MV Ever Given in the Suez Canal.(submitted by Robert Allan Ltd.)

"I have a feeling now that they may be revisiting some of their guidelines as to who and what are allowed to traverse the canal without assistance," he said.

"There's a lot of oil traffic that goes through there, too, and potentially it could be quite damaging to the environment if it was a big oil spill."