Efforts to dislodge a giant container ship blocking the Suez Canal have allowed its stern and rudder to pass, but the canal authority’s head said on Saturday that it is unclear when the ship will be refloated.
During high winds early Tuesday, the 400-meter-long Ever Given became wedged diagonally across a southern portion of the canal, blocking one of the world’s busiest waterways.
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On Saturday, two SCA sources said that a combination of dredging material from around the ship and tugboats pulling and moving the vessel made slight progress in dislodging the ship. According to one source, there was some movement at the ship’s bow.
Osama Rabie, Chairman of the Suez Canal Authority (SCA), told local television that water had begun to flow underneath the ship. “We expect the ship to slide and shift from the position it is in at any time,” he said earlier at a press conference.
The canal holds about 15% of global shipping traffic, and hundreds of ships are waiting to transit once the blockage is lifted.
Rabie said he hoped it wouldn’t be necessary to withdraw any of the ship’s 18,300 containers to lighten its load, but that attempts to free it were being hampered by high tides and winds.
“The ship’s stern started to travel towards Suez (on Friday), which was a good sign before 11 p.m., when the tide dropped significantly and we came to a halt,” Rabie told journalists in Suez.
By Friday, dredgers had removed 20,000 tonnes of sand from the area around the ship’s bow. If heavier tugboats, dredging, and a high tide are effective in dislodging the vessel, it may be freed by the start of next week, according to a Dutch firm working to free it.
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Tugging attempts resumed on Saturday afternoon, with more scheduled for Sunday, according to SCA sources, though more sand will need to be removed from the area around the ship to free it.
The SCA had told agencies in Port Said to prepare for the potential entry of new ships into the canal, according to a shipping source, while the SCA had outlined a proposal for the rapid transit of 133 vessels once the Ever Given was freed.
Tugboats with Heavy Payloads
Heavy tugboats with a total capacity of 400 tonnes are expected to arrive this weekend, according to the head of Boskalis, the parent company of Dutch firm Smit Salvage, which has been brought in to assist the SCA.
“We hope to finish it after the weekend,” Boskalis Chief Executive Peter Berdowski said late Friday on Dutch television program Nieuwsuur.
Mostafa Madbouly, Egypt’s prime minister, thanked international partners on Saturday for their offers to help refloat the ship.
After the ship became stranded, shipping prices for oil product tankers nearly doubled, and the blockade has disrupted global supply chains, threatening expensive delays for businesses already struggling with COVID-19 restrictions.
If the blockade continues, shippers may plan to reroute their cargoes around the Cape of Good Hope, which will add about two weeks to journeys and cost more in fuel. Rabie confirmed that the ships in port were free to reroute, but none had done so as of yet.
According to him, 321 vessels were waiting to join or continue transiting the channel. According to a shipping source, these included hundreds of cargo ships, bulk carriers, and liquefied natural gas (LNG) or liquefied petroleum gas (LPG) vessels.
Efforts to refloat the Ever Given have so far included fourteen tugs, though Boskalis and Smit Salvage have cautioned that using too much force to tug the ship could damage it.
Berdowski claims that removing containers with a land crane could lighten the Ever Given’s load, but experts warn that such a method would be complicated and time-consuming.
“If we don’t have it loose next week,” he said, “we’ll have to cut 600 containers from the bow to reduce the weight.” “That will put us back at least a day because figuring out where to put all those containers will be a challenge.”
Empty container ships with cranes, according to Rabie, could offload cargo.