‘Complex’ work to free massive ship stuck in Suez Canal enters 3rd day

Tugboats and a specialized suction dredger worked Friday to dislodge a giant container ship that has been stuck sideways in Egypt’s Suez Canal for the past three days, blocking a crucial waterway for global shipping.

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

The ship, owned by the Japanese firm Shoei Kisen KK, has blocked traffic in the canal, causing headaches for global trade.

Around 10% of world trade flows through the canal, which is particularly crucial for the transport of oil. The closure also could affect oil and gas shipments to Europe from the Mideast.

At least 150 ships were waiting for the Ever Given to be cleared, including vessels near Port Said on the Mediterranean Sea, Port Suez on the Red Sea and those already stuck in the canal system on Egypt’s Great Bitter Lake, said Leth Agencies, which provides services for the canal.

As of Friday morning, the vessel remained grounded, Leth Agencies added. It remains unclear when the route would reopen.

An Egyptian official at the Suez Canal Authority described the work as complex and said those trying to dislodge the vessel wanted to avoid complications that could extend the canal closure. The official spoke on condition of anonymity as he was not authorized to talk to journalists.

The Ever Given’s bow was touching the eastern wall, while its stern appeared lodged against the western wall.

A team from Boskalis, a Dutch firm specialized in salvaging, started working with the canal authority Thursday. The rescue efforts have focused on dredging to remove sand and mud from around the port side of the vessel’s bow.

The Suez Canal Authority, which operates the waterway, deployed tugboats and a specialized suction dredger that is able to shift 2,000 cubic meters of material every hour.

The Suez Canal Authority said late Thursday that it would need to remove between 15,000 to 20,000 cubic meters (530,000 to 706,000 cubic feet) of sand to reach a depth of 12 to 16 metres (39 to 52 feet). That depth is likely to allow the ship to float freely again, it said.

It wasn’t immediately clear what caused the Ever Given to become wedged on Tuesday. GAC, a global shipping and logistics company, said the ship had experienced a blackout without elaborating.

Evergreen Marine Corp., a major Taiwan-based shipping company that operates the ship, said in a statement that the Ever Given had been overcome by strong winds as it entered the canal from the Red Sea, but that none of its containers had sunk.

The Suez Canal Authority also blamed bad weather for the incident.

Using data from Automatic Identification System trackers on ships at sea, data firm Refinitiv shared an analysis with the AP showing that over 300 ships remained en route to the waterway over the next two weeks.

Some vessels could still change course, but the crush of ships listing the Suez Canal as their destination shows that an even-greater backlog looms for shippers already under pressure amid the coronavirus pandemic.

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