Suez Canal: Stuck container ship set free and on the move

‘We pulled it off ’, says salvage firm as vital trade passage is cleared

The giant container ship, the Ever Given, that blocked the Suez Canal for almost a week has been fully refloated and traffic in the waterway is to resume, the Suez Canal Authority has said. Video: Reuters

 

A huge container ship blocking Egypt’s Suez Canal for nearly a week has been set free and is on the move, a salvage firm has said.

Helped by the peak of high tide, a flotilla of tugboats managed to wrench the bulbous bow of the skyscraper-sized Ever Given from the canal’s sandy bank, where it had been firmly lodged since last Tuesday.

After hauling the fully-laden 220,000-ton vessel over the canal bank, the salvage team was pulling the vessel toward the Great Bitter Lake –  a wide stretch of water halfway between the north and south end of the canal – where the ship will undergo technical inspection, canal authorities said.

Satellite data from MarineTraffic.com confirmed that the ship was moving away from the shoreline toward the centre of the artery.

People watch as the Ever Given is refloated, unblocking the Suez Canal. Photograph: Mahmoud Khaled/Getty
People watch as the Ever Given is refloated, unblocking the Suez Canal. Photograph: Mahmoud Khaled/Getty

Video released by the Suez Canal Authority showed the Ever Given being escorted by the tugboats that helped free it, each sounding off their horns in jubilation after nearly a week of chaos.

“We pulled it off!” said Peter Berdowski, chief executive of Boskalis, the salvage firm hired to extract the Ever Given, in a statement. “I am excited to announce that our team of experts, working in close collaboration with the Suez Canal Authority, successfully refloated the Ever Given... thereby making free passage through the Suez Canal possible again.”

Traffic jam

The obstruction has created a massive traffic jam in the vital passage, holding up $9 billion each day in global trade and straining supply chains already burdened by the coronavirus pandemic.

It remained unclear when traffic through the canal would return to normal. At least 367 vessels, carrying everything from crude oil to cattle, have piled up on either end of the canal, waiting to pass.

This satellite image from Planet Labs Inc. shows the cargo ship MV Ever Given stuck in the Suez Canal on Sunday. Photograph: Planet Labs Inc. via AP
This satellite image from Planet Labs Inc. shows the cargo ship MV Ever Given stuck in the Suez Canal on Sunday. Photograph: Planet Labs Inc. via AP

Data firm Refinitiv estimated it could take more than 10 days to clear the backlog of ships. Meanwhile, dozens of vessels have opted for the alternate route around the Cape of Good Hope at Africa’s southern tip, a 3,100-mile (4,989km) detour that adds some two weeks to journeys and costs ships hundreds of thousands of dollars in fuel and other costs.

The freeing of the vessel came after dredgers vacuumed up sand and mud from the vessel’s bow and 10 tugboats pushed and pulled the vessel for five days, managing to partially refloat it at dawn.

It was not clear whether the Ever Given, a Panama-flagged, Japanese-owned ship hauling goods from Asia to Europe, would continue to its original destination of Rotterdam, the Netherlands, or if it would need to enter another port for repairs.

Ship operators did not offer a timeline for the reopening of the crucial canal, which carries more than 10 per cent of global trade, including 7 per cent of the world’s oil. Over 19,000 ships passed through last year, according to canal authorities.

Millions of barrels of oil and liquefied natural gas flow through the artery from the Persian Gulf to Europe and North America. Goods made in China, furniture, clothes, supermarket basics, bound for Europe also must go through the canal, or else take the detour around Africa.

The unprecedented shutdown had threatened to disrupt oil and gas shipments to Europe from the Middle East and raised fears of extended delays, goods shortages and rising costs for consumers. The salvage operation successfully relied on tugs and dredgers alone, allowing authorities to avoid the far more complex and lengthy task of lightening the vessel by off-loading its 20,000 containers. – PA