Latest attempts to refloat container ship in Suez Canal ‘not successful’

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The Ever Given remains wedged diagonally across the entire canal.

FRESH ATTEMPTS TO refloat the mega container ship blocking Egypt’s Suez Canal have failed Friday, the vessel’s managers have reported.

The Ever Given, which is 400m long, has been wedged diagonally across the entire canal since Tuesday, shutting the waterway in both directions.

The blockage has caused a huge traffic jam for more than 200 ships at either end of the 193-kilometre long canal and major delays in the delivery of oil and other products.

The crisis has forced companies to re-route its services from the vital shipping lane around Africa, extending their journeys by weeks.

“Another attempt to refloat the vessel earlier today… was not successful,” the Singapore-based Bernhard Schulte Shipmanagement (BSM) said in a statement.

The company explained that its focus was now on dredging to remove sand and mud from around the port side of the vessel’s bow.

It said Smit Salvage, a Dutch firm that has worked on some of the most famous wrecks of recent years, confirmed there would be “two additional tugs” arriving by Sunday to assist.

There had been “no reports of pollution or cargo damage and initial investigations rule out any mechanical or engine failure as a cause of the grounding”, BSM said.

Crews had been seen working through the night, using a large dredging machine under floodlights.

But the vessel with gross tonnage of 219,000 and deadweight of 199,000 has yet to budge, forcing global shipping giant Maersk and Germany’s Hapag-Lloyd to look into re-routing around the southern tip of Africa.

That is likely to cost several hundred thousand dollars in extra fuel, raising shipping costs by 15-20 percent, according to Plamen Natzkoff, an expert at VesselsValue.

‘Human error’

“Shipping companies are being forced to confront the spectre of taking the far longer route around the Cape of Good Hope to get to Europe or the east coast of North America,” said Lloyd’s List, a shipping data and news company.

“The first container ship to do this is Evergreen’s Ever Greet… a sistership to Ever Given,” it said, noting that the route can take up to an additional 12 days.

Egypt’s Suez Canal Authority said the container ship veered off course and ran aground when winds reaching 40 knots whipped up a sandstorm that affected visibility.

BSM also said that “initial investigations suggest the vessel grounded due to strong wind”.

Lloyd’s List said data indicated 213 vessels were now stalled at either end of the canal, which links the Mediterranean and the Red Sea.

The blockage was holding up an estimated $9.6 billion worth of cargo each day between Asia and Europe, it said.

“Rough calculations suggest westbound traffic is worth around $5.1 billion daily while eastbound traffic is worth $4.5 billion,” said Lloyd’s.

Shipping expert Rose George said it was “inevitable there’s going to be some knock-on cost effect” for consumers around the world, but cast doubt on the explanation that gusts of wind caused the ship’s grounding.

“I don’t know if that’s true, but I do know that more than two thirds of marine accidents are due to human error,” she told the AFP news agency.

Fears of weeks-long blockage

The canal authority has said between 15,000 and 20,000 cubic metres of sand would have to be removed in order to reach a depth of 12-16 metres and refloat the ship.

If those efforts fail, salvage teams will look to unload some of the Ever Given’s cargo and take advantage of a spring high tide due to start on Sunday night to move the vessel.

Natzkoff said teams would likely throw even more resources behind their efforts in coming days to make the most of that opportunity.

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“If they don’t manage to dislodge it during that high tide, the next high tide is not there for another couple of weeks, and that becomes problematic,” he said.

But, he added, “the stakes are too high for it to take months”.

Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi’s seaports adviser, Mohab Mamish, who oversaw the recent expansion of the waterway, told AFP last night that “maritime navigation will resume again within 48-72 hours, maximum”.

Salvage experts had already warned the shutdown could last days or even weeks, however.

Turkey on Friday offered to send a tugboat to help Egypt free the Panama-flagged vessel, as it pressed on with its bid to mend ties with regional rivals.

The United States also said it was ready to send support, including a team of US Navy experts.

© AFP 2021

A digger tries to free the Ever Given from the Suez Canal bank

A digger tries to free the Ever Given from the Suez Canal bank

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