Container ship at centre of Suez Canal blockage partially freed

Author
AP,
Publish Date
Mon, 29 Mar 2021, 5:15PM
(Photo / AP)
(Photo / AP)

Container ship at centre of Suez Canal blockage partially freed

Author
AP,
Publish Date
Mon, 29 Mar 2021, 5:15PM

Engineers have "partially refloated" the colossal container ship that remains wedged across the Suez Canal, canal services firm Inchcape have said, without providing further details about when the vessel would be completely set free.

Satellite data from MarineTraffic.com showed that the ship's bulbous bow, once firmly lodged in the canal's eastern bank, had been wrested from the shore. While the ship is floating again, it isn't clear how soon the waterway will be open to traffic, or how long it will take to clear the hundreds of ships stuck in the maritime logjam.

For nearly a week, the skyscraper-sized Ever Given hauling goods from Asia to Europe has blocked maritime traffic through the vital artery, holding up $13.73 billion each day in global trade and straining supply chains already burdened by the coronavirus pandemic. At least 367 vessels, carrying everything from crude oil to cattle, are waiting to pass through the canal.

The partial freeing of the vessel came after intensive efforts to push and pull the vessel with 10 tugboats when the full moon brought spring tide, Leth Agencies said, raising the canal's water level and hopes for a breakthrough. Videos shared widely on social media appeared to show tugboats in the canal sounding their horns in celebration of the Ever Given being wrenched from the shore, the most significant sign of progress yet.

Canal authorities have been desperately trying to free the vessel by relying on tugs and dredgers alone, even as analysts warned that 400m-long ship may be too heavy for such an operation.

As a window for a breakthrough narrows with high tide receding this week, fears have grown that authorities would be forced to lighten the vessel by removing the ship's 20,000 containers — an complex operation, requiring specialised equipment not found in Egypt, that could take days or weeks.

The giant container ship Ever Given has been stuck in the canal since Wednesday (NZ time). The ship's operator and Egyptian officials blamed winds gusting as much as 50kms per hour along with a sandstorm sweeping the area.

Cargo ships have grown in recent years to take on more containers as fuel prices have risen because big boats burn less fuel per container moved. Some have wondered if the ultra-large size of the Ever Given was a factor.

While the supersize of ships can increase their risk of running aground in the Suez Canal, boats just as big buffeted by winds just as strong have passed through the waterway without incident before.

Instead, it's likely that "a combination of factors" was at play, said Ian Woods, a marine cargo lawyer and partner with the firm Clyde & Co.

The Suez Canal Authority decided earlier today to postpone a re-floating attempt of the massive cargo ship, Egyptian news service Ahram Online reported.

The refloating attempt was delayed until "sufficient tug power [was] in place", the Suez Canal's service provider, Leth Agencies, said.

Incredible aerial footage this afternoon revealed 369 vessels — carrying up to $13.73 billion worth of goods — waiting to pass through the Suez Canal in a maritime traffic jam.

The jam sent shockwaves through the global economy. Over 10 per cent of global trade, including 7 per cent of the world's oil, passes through the canal. Crude prices shot up on Wednesday in response to the Suez blockage before dropping the next day.

Goods passing through the canal are typically moving from east to west. In addition to oil, liquified natural gas from the Persian Gulf and furniture, clothes and supermarket basics from China use the canal to avoid taking a circuitous 5,000km route around Africa.

Shipping journal Lloyd's List estimates that the closed waterway is tying up billions of dollars of goods each day the canal is closed — at a time when the coronavirus pandemic is already causing demand in consumer goods to surge.

Nearby nations have been hit hardest, with sanctions-hit Syria, announcing a new round of fuel rationing after the holdup delayed a shipment of oil products from ally Iran.