Traffic in Suez Canal resumes after stranded ship refloated

Helped by the peak of high tide, a flotilla of tugboats wrenched the bulbous bow of the skyscraper-sized Ever Given from the canal’s sandy bank.

Ever Given, one of the world's largest container ships, is seen after it was fully floated in the Suez Canal on Monday [Handout/Suez Canal Authority via AFP]
Ever Given, one of the world's largest container ships, is seen after it was fully floated in the Suez Canal on Monday [Handout/Suez Canal Authority via AFP]

Shipping traffic through Egypt’s Suez Canal resumed on Monday after a giant container ship that blocked the busy waterway for almost a week was refloated.

Live footage on a local television station showed the ship surrounded by tug boats moving slowly in the centre of the canal. The station, ExtraNews, said the ship was moving at a speed of 1.5 knots (2.8kmph).

“Admiral Osama Rabie, the Chairman of the Suez Canal Authority [SCA], announces the resumption of maritime traffic in the Suez Canal after the Authority successfully rescues and floats the giant Panamanian container ship EVER GIVEN,” a statement from the SCA said.

“She’s free,” an official involved in the salvage operation said.

The 400-metre long Ever Given got jammed diagonally across a southern section of the canal in strong winds early last Tuesday, halting traffic on the shortest shipping route between Europe and Asia.

After dredging and excavation work over the weekend, rescue workers from the SCA and a team from Dutch firm Smit Salvage succeeded in partially refloating the ship earlier on Monday using tug boats.

Evergreen Line, which is leasing the Ever Given, confirmed the ship was successfully refloated and said it would be repositioned and inspected for seaworthiness.

“There have been no reports of pollution or cargo damage and initial investigations rule out any mechanical or engine failure as a cause of the grounding,” said Bernhard Schulte Shipmanagement (BSM) in a statement.

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.

The canal authority informed shipping agencies that convoys of ships will resume running both ways through the canal from 7pm (17:00 GMT).

Rabie said the channel was navigable after Ever Given was freed undamaged.

“The ship came out intact and it has no problems. We’ve just searched the bottom and soil of the Suez Canal and thankfully it is sound and has no issues, and ships will pass through it today,” he told Nile TV.

After hauling the fully laden 220,000-tonne vessel over the canal bank, the salvage team pulled the vessel towards the Great Bitter Lake, a wide stretch of water halfway between the north and south end of the canal, SCA said.

The freeing of the vessel came after dredgers vacuumed up sand and mud from the ship’s bow.

“The time pressure to complete this operation was evident and unprecedented,” said Peter Berdowski, CEO of Smit Salvage owner Boskalis, after the Ever Given was refloated.

The company said about 30,000 cubic metres of sand was dredged.

Clear the backlog

At least 369 vessels are waiting to transit the canal, including dozens of container ships, bulk carriers, oil tankers and liquefied natural gas (LNG) or liquefied petroleum gas (LPG) vessels, the SCA’s Rabie said.

The authority said earlier it would be able to accelerate convoys through the canal once the Ever Given was freed. “We will not waste one second,” Rabie told Egyptian state television.

He said it could take from two-and-a-half to three days to clear the backlog, and a canal source said more than 100 ships would be able to enter the channel daily. Shipping group Maersk said the knock-on disruptions to global shipping could take weeks or months to unravel.

Data firm Refinitiv estimated it could take more than 10 days to clear the backlog of ships. Meanwhile, dozens of vessels opted for the alternate route around the Cape of Good Hope at Africa’s southern tip – a 5,000km (3,100-mile) detour that adds two weeks to journeys and costs ships hundreds of thousands of dollars in fuel and other costs.

Egyptian President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi, who had not publicly commented on the blockage, said Egypt had ended the crisis and assured resumption of trade through the canal.

“Today, Egyptians have been successful in putting to an end the crisis of the stranded ship in the Suez Canal, despite the enormous complexity surrounding the process,” el-Sisi said.

About 15 percent of world shipping traffic transits the Suez Canal, which is an important source of foreign currency revenue for Egypt. The stoppage is costing the canal $14m-$15m a day.

Shipping rates for oil product tankers nearly doubled after the ship became stranded, and the blockage has disrupted global supply chains, threatening costly delays for companies already dealing with COVID-19 restrictions.

Maersk was among shippers rerouting cargoes around the Cape of Good Hope, adding up to two weeks to journeys and extra fuel costs.

Source: Al Jazeera and news agencies

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