Suez Canal remains blocked amid efforts to free trapped vessel

9:42am, Sat 27 Mar 2021
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A giant container ship remains stuck sideways in Egypt’s Suez Canal for a fifth day as authorities prepare for fresh attempts to free the vessel and reopen the crucial world shipping waterway.

The Ever Given, a Panama-flagged ship that carries cargo between Asia and Europe, ran aground on Tuesday in the narrow canal that runs between Africa and the Sinai Peninsula.

The massive vessel got stuck in a single-lane stretch of the canal, about six kilometres (3.7 miles) north of the southern entrance, near the city of Suez.

Bernhard Schulte Shipmanagement, the technical manager of the Ever Given, said an attempt to free the vessel on Friday had failed.

The maritime solutions provider said plans are in the works to pump water from interior spaces of the vessel, and two more tugs should arrive by Sunday to join others already trying to move the massive ship.

An official at the Suez Canal Authority said there are plans for at least two attempts on Saturday to free the vessel when the high tide goes down.

The Ever Given (AP)

He said the timing depends on the tide.

Egyptian authorities have prohibited media access to the site. The canal authority said its head, Lt Gen Osama Rabei, would hold a news conference on Saturday in the city of Suez, a few miles from the site of the vessel.

The president of Shoei Kisen, the firm which owns the Ever Given, told a news conference at company headquarters in Imabari in western Japan that 10 tugboats were deployed and workers are dredging the banks and sea floor near the vessel’s bow to try to get it afloat again as the high tide starts to go out.

Yukito Higaki said the company is considering removing containers to lighten the vessel if refloating efforts fail, but cautioned that this would be a difficult operation.

The Ever Given (AP)

The White House has offered to help Egypt reopen the canal, with US president Joe Biden saying: “We have equipment and capacity that most countries don’t have and we’re seeing what we can do and what help we can be.”

An initial investigation showed the vessel ran aground due to strong winds and ruled out mechanical or engine failure, the company and the canal authority said.

GAC, a global shipping and logistics company, had previously said the ship had experienced a power blackout, but it did not elaborate.

A maritime traffic jam grew to around 280 vessels on Saturday outside the Suez Canal, according to canal service provider Leth Agencies.

Some vessels began changing course but dozens of ships are still en route to the waterway, according to the data firm Refinitiv.

A prolonged closure of the canal would cause delays in the global shipment chain. Some 19,000 vessels passed through the waterway last year, according to official figures.

About 10% of world trade flows through the canal, which is particularly crucial for transporting oil. The closure could affect oil and gas shipments to Europe from the Middle East.

Cargo ships idling in the Gulf of Suez (AP)

It remains unclear how long the blockage would last.

Even after reopening the canal that links factories in Asia to consumers in Europe, the waiting containers are likely to arrive at busy ports, forcing them to face additional delays before offloading.

Anticipating long delays, the owners of the stuck vessel diverted its sister ship, the Ever Greet, on a course around Africa instead, according to satellite data.

Others are also being diverted.

The liquid natural gas carrier Pan Americas changed course in the mid-Atlantic, now aiming south to go around the southern tip of Africa, according to satellite data from MarineTraffic.com.

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