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The Suez Canal ship was finally freed, thanks in large part to the Moon

Published Mar 30th, 2021 4:24PM EDT
suez canal ship
Image: NASA

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Unless you’ve been living under a rock you’ve heard of the saga of the container ship that spent a solid week blocking the Suez Canal, a major shipping channel. The incident backed up literally hundreds and hundreds of ships that were waiting to pass through the canal and the total impact on the global economy is something that will take a while to calculate. Workers were finally able to dislodge the ship just over a day ago, and it was a herculean effort that required the cooperation of a huge number of people, ships, and even the Moon itself.

You see, when the ship ran aground it quickly became clear that it couldn’t simply be reverse or even pulled from the muddy banks of the canal. The container ship is massive and was packed with cargo and it was simply too stuck to yank it out with a tugboat or even a team of them. Instead, salvage workers checked the calendar to plan their attack and, seeing the full moon just days away, they prepared to give it everything they had to get the ship unstuck while the Moon towered overhead.

Despite what some, um, less scientific folks would have you believe, the tides are controlled by the Moon. As the rocky orb circles the Earth, the gravitational pull of the large body gently pulls on the water in the ocean. This causes the tide to either rise or fall depending on where you are on Earth in relation to the Moon’s position around Earth.

When a supermoon occurs, the full moon is a bit closer to Earth than it is on an average day, and that means a stronger pull on our oceans and a more dramatic change in the tides. For workers struggling to free the stuck container ship, the extra 18 inches of high tide that the Moon would generate seemed like their best chance at yanking it free.

As The Wall Street Journal reports, the salvage crew had just a few days with which to benefit from the higher-than-average high tide, so they waited and watched the shipping channel continue to pack with ships eager to pass. In the meantime, they dug out as much of the sand surrounding the ship as they could, working night and day to give the ship the slightest advantage when the time came to break it free.

When the tide finally rose the tugboats began working once again to break the vessel free of the shore. A dozen boats were working to push and pull the ship, and the arrival of a particularly powerful tugboat called the Alp Guard finally allowed the container ship to be pulled back into the canal.

Now that the ship is free, the canal traffic should rapidly return to normal. There are many people to thank for rescuing the ship, but we can’t forget to give a nod to Earth’s Moon, as it played a big part as well.

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