Giant Ship Blocking Suez Canal Could Take ‘Days, Even Weeks’ to Free

CAIRO – As tugs against the weight of the mammoth ship and dredgers worked on sand and mud, a salvage company working on the operation warned Thursday that the release of the container ship blocking traffic in Egypt’s Suez Canal would take days or even weeks could last.

Dozens of ships loaded with oil and goods destined for ports around the world have been stranded in the canal, and with every hour the economic cost of the disruption increases.

The stuck ship, the Ever Given, has been wedged in the canal since it ran aground amid the strong winds of a sandstorm on Tuesday. Its bow is on the east bank of the canal and its stern on the west bank.

Eight large tugs attempted to push and pull the ship from its inadvertent berth, the Suez Canal Authority said in a statement Thursday, but with a length of about 300 meters – about the height of the Empire State Building – and a weight of about 200,000 Meters of tons to displace the Ever Given is proving to be a challenge.

An attempt to retrieve the ship around 8 a.m. on Thursday failed and forced the rescue forces to try again later in the day, the ship’s technical director, Bernhard Schulte Shipmanagement, said in a statement on Thursday. The company announced that a specialized suction dredger had arrived to dig up the ship.

The Japanese company that owns the ship, Shoei Kisen Kaisha, admitted in a statement Thursday that the situation was “extremely difficult” and apologized for the disruption caused by the episode. “We will continue to do our best” to move the ship, it said.

Peter Berdowski, managing director of Royal Boskalis Westminster, who was hired by the owner of Ever Given to transport the ship, told the Dutch current affairs program Nieuwsuur on Wednesday that the operation to rescue the ship could take “days, even weeks” .

Mr Berdowski, whose company was involved in the expansion of the Suez Canal, said Ever Given was stuck on both flat sides of the V-shaped waterway. The ship is fully loaded with 20,000 containers and “a very heavy beach whale,” he said.

The authorities had initially tried to float the ship with tugs, a model that liberated the CSCL Indian Ocean, a similarly sized container ship that got stuck in the Elbe near the port of Hamburg in 2016. The recovery of this ship required 12 tugs and three attempts, and part of the sandbar on which the ship ran aground had to be dredged.

Mr Berdowski said the Ever Given, which is operated by a company called Evergreen, is too heavy for tugboats alone, adding that salvage workers may need to extract fuel, pump water out of the ballast tanks and remove some of the containers to get around the ship easier to make and therefore easier to move. And dredging may require additional equipment, he said.

It all depends on how deep the massive container ship is. “The deeper the ship is stuck, the harder it is to lose weight, the more time it will take to break it out,” said Berdowski.

The ship’s manager said in a statement that a preliminary investigation revealed that the ship landed because of high winds and not mechanical or engine failure. The company said all 25 crew members, who the ship owner said were all Indian nationals, were safe with no reports of injuries, pollution or cargo damage.

The global shipping and supply industries, already hit by the surge in orders due to the coronavirus pandemic and recent disruptions to factories in Japan and Texas, waited to see if the traffic jam disruption would last a few days. or something worse.

The channel, from which Egypt derives much of its revenue and geopolitical importance, handles around 10 percent of all world trade. By connecting the Red Sea to the Mediterranean, the canal provides a shortcut for ships carrying oil and cargo from Asia to Europe and beyond, a sailing time of around 10 days. More than 50 ships pass it on an average day.

Egypt opened a new lane in a section of the canal in 2015, a $ 8 billion expansion announced by President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi as a historic national achievement. But the Ever Given sits diagonally across another section of the canal that has only one track.

The chief of the Suez Canal Authority, Lieutenant General Osama Rabie, said in a statement Thursday that the day before it was expected that 13 ships would be able to move through the canal after the Ever Given was pulled out of the way . However, the rescue operation lasted longer than hoped and forced the ships to anchor in a waiting area, as the authority noted in the statement.

Nada Rashwan reported from Cairo and Thomas Erdbrink from Amsterdam.

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