MANSHIYET RUGOLA, Egypt – The gigantic container ship that blocked world trade by getting stuck in the Suez Canal has been enthroning Umm Gaafar’s dusty brick house for five days, humming its deep mechanical hum.
She looked up from her place on the bumpy dirt road and wondered what the ship, the Ever Given, could carry in all these containers. Flat screen TV? Full size refrigerators, washing machines, or full size ceiling fans? Neither she nor her neighbors in Manshiyet Rugola Village of 5,000 had any of them at home.
“Why don’t you pull out one of these containers?” joked Umm Gaafar, 65. “There could be something good in there. Maybe it could feed the city. “
Japanese-owned Ever Given and the more than 300 cargo ships now waiting to cross the Suez Canal, one of the world’s most critical shipping lanes, could serve Manshiyet Rugola many times over.
The ships were supposed to carry cars, oil, livestock, laptops, jet fuel, scrap metal, grain, sweaters, sneakers, household appliances, toilet paper, toys, medical equipment, and more, and supply much of the world, and the canal was supposed to be their fastest route from Asia and the Middle East to Europe and the east coast of the United States.
Canal authorities said Saturday that the dredgers managed to dig up the ship’s stern and free its rudder on Friday evening and that they dredged 18 meters into the east bank of the canal on Saturday afternoon, where the ship’s bow was stuck. But after a recovery team failed again to remove the four-football-field Leviathan from the sandbar it ran aground on Tuesday and blocked all shipping traffic through the canal, global supply chains were nearing a full-blown crisis.
According to estimates by shipping analysts, the colossal traffic jam kept almost $ 10 billion in trade every day.
“All of the world’s retail trade is in containers, or 90 percent,” said Alan Murphy, founder of Sea-Intelligence, a marine data and analytics company. “So everything is affected. Give a brand name and they’ll get stuck on one of these ships. “
The elimination of the bottleneck depends on the ability of the salvage workers to clear the sand, mud and rocks in which the Ever Given is stuck and to lighten the ship’s load enough to allow it to float again while tugs try to push it free and to pull. Your best chance could come on Monday, when a spring tide raises the canal’s water level by up to 18 inches, analysts and shipping agents said.
The company that oversees the operation and crew of the ship, Bernhard Schulte Shipmanagement, said 11 tugs helped, with two more due on Sunday. Several dredgers, including a special suction dredger that can move 2,000 cubic meters of material per hour, dug around the bow of the ship, the company said.
On the deck of a tug, on which the Egyptian authorities were able to give journalists a glimpse of the rescue operation for the first time on Saturday evening, several boats could be seen that barely reached halfway to the side of the ship and were brought up to the ship to make it stable hold. The dredger and heavy equipment were floodlit like toys on the bow of the ship.
A mighty tug sat near the stern of the ship, waiting for the next attempt to swim again. But the tide, predicted just after 10:30 p.m., came and went with no progress.
Much of the work, however, was invisible. The team of eight Dutch salvage experts and naval architects who oversee operations will have to monitor the ship and the seabed and create a computer model that will allow the ship to be circled without damaging it, said Captain Nick Sloane, a South African salvage master with the Operation directed to repair the Costa Concordia, the cruise ship that capsized off the coast of Italy in 2012.
You have to evacuate other ships from the area, a massive coordination effort. And they need to consider the possibility that the Ever Given’s grounding reshuffled the ocean floor, making it difficult for other ships to traverse the area even after the move, said Captain Paul Foran, a naval advisor who has worked on other salvage operations.
Meanwhile, they have to hope that the Ever Given stays intact. With the ship sagging in the middle and the bow and stern trapped in positions it wasn’t designed for, the hull is prone to stress and cracking, both experts said.
Mohammed Mosselhy, the owner of First Suez International, a maritime logistics company on the canal, said diving teams had already inspected the hull and found no damage. But on most other points, Ever Given Murphy’s law had succumbed: anything that could go wrong, starting with the size of the ship, was among the largest in the world.
“It was the largest ship in the convoy, and she landed in the worst part of the canal” – a narrow stretch with only one lane, said Captain Sloane. “And that was just very unfortunate.”
When the tugs, dredgers, and pumps can’t do their job, a number of specialized vessels and machinery could be added that may require hundreds of workers: small tankers to suck up the ship’s fuel; the tallest cranes in the world to unload some of their containers one at a time; and when no cranes are big enough or close enough, high-performance helicopters that can take containers of up to 20 tons – although no one has said where the cargo would go. (A full 40-foot container can weigh up to 40 tons.)
Lieutenant General Osama Rabie, the head of the Suez Canal Authority, said at a press conference Saturday that although he hoped “we don’t get to this stage,” the authorities would call ships in with cranes to move some of the containers.
Although the canal authorities and analysts sounded optimistic that the canal would be cleared this weekend, Captain Sloane estimated that the operation would take at least a week. When a ship of similar size, the CSCL Indian Ocean, ran aground near the port of Hamburg in 2016, it took almost six days to evacuate the Elbe.
All of this, to put it simply, “This is a very large ship; This is a very big problem, ”said Richard Meade, editor-in-chief of Lloyd’s List, a London-based maritime intelligence publication. “I don’t think they have everything they need. It’s just a matter of, it’s a very big problem. “
If the ship clears by Monday, the shipping industry can absorb the inconvenience, analysts said, but beyond that, supply chains and consumers could see major disruptions.
Some ships have already decided not to wait and get out of Suez to make the long trip around the southern tip of Africa. This trip could add weeks to the trip and cost more than $ 26,000 per additional day in fuel costs.
On Saturday, General Rabie defended the canal’s safety record: 18,840 ships in 2020, no accidents.
“What happened is happening all over the world and it will happen again,” he said. “The Suez Canal as a passage has nothing to do with the incident.”
In Manshiyet Rugola, whose name means “Little Village of Manhood”, traffic jams of any kind are difficult to imagine in normal times.
Donkey carts piled high with clover that had bumped along half-paved alleys between low brick houses and green fields of palm trees, rubbish, and animal dung. A teenager got ice cream off his motorcycle. Roosters offered the midday call to prayer a profane competition. Until the Ever Given appeared, the minarets of the inconspicuous mosques were the tallest structures.
“Do you want to see the ship?” a little boy asked a couple of visiting journalists, who were rocking in excitement under the window of their car. Ever since the earthquake rumble of the aground ship shook many people up on Tuesday at 7 a.m., the Ever Given was the only topic in town.
“The whole village was out there watching,” said Youssef Ghareeb, 19, a factory worker. “We got so used to having her with us because we lived on our rooftops and only watched the ship for four days.”
It was generally accepted that the view was even better at night when the ship was glowing with light: a skyscraper straight out of a big city skyline on its side.
“When it lights up at night, it’s like the Titanic,” said Nadia, who, like her neighbor Umm Gaafar, refused to give her full name because of the security forces in the area. “The only thing missing is the necklace from the movie.”
Umm Gaafar had asked to use her nickname in order not to get in the way of the government security guards who passed through, to warn residents not to take photos of the canal and to spread general discomfort. Nadia said she was too intimidated to take photos of the ship at night when she really wanted to.
Villagers and marine analysts had the same question about Ever Given when based on different expertise. The ship operators have insisted that the ship ran aground due to the strong winds of a sandstorm, with the stacked containers acting like a giant sail and other ships in the same convoy passing through without incident. So had previous ships in previous storms, the villagers emphasized.
“We saw worse winds,” said Ahmad al-Sayed, 19, a security guard, “but nothing like this has ever happened before.”
Two Suez Canal pilots usually board large ships crossing the canal to guide them through the canal despite being piloted by a crew member, said Captain Foran, the maritime advisor.
Shipping experts and government officials said the wind could well have been a factor exacerbating other physical forces, but they suggested that human error could have come into play.
“A major incident like this is usually the result of many reasons: the weather was a cause, but maybe there was a technical error or a human error,” General Rabie said on Saturday.
Captain Foran had the same idea.
“I wonder why it was the only one that went aground?” he said. “But you can talk about that later. Right now all they have to do is get the beast out of the sewer. “
Nada Rashwan contributed to the coverage.