Partial refloating of jammed ship lifts hopes of reopening Suez Canal

[ISMAILIA, Egypt] A huge container ship blocking Egypt's Suez Canal for nearly a week has been partially refloated, the Suez Canal Authority (SCA) said on Monday, raising hopes the busy waterway will soon be reopened for a big backlog of ships.

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

After further dredging and excavation over the weekend, rescue workers from the SCA and a team from Dutch firm Smit Salvage worked to free the ship using tug boats in the early hours of Monday, two marine and shipping sources said.

The SCA said Ever Given had been mostly straightened along the eastern bank of the canal and further tugging operations would resume once the tide rises later on Monday. Marine traffic through the canal will restart once the ship is directed to the lakes area - a wider section of the canal, it added.

At least 369 vessels were 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, SCA Chairman Osama Rabie said.

"It is very possible that by today noon shipping activity would resume, god willing," Mr Rabie told Egyptian state television on Monday. "We will not waste one second." The SCA has said it can accelerate convoys through the canal once the Ever Given is freed.

Mr Rabie said it could take from 2-and-a-half to three days to clear the backlog, but shipping group Maersk said the knock-on disruptions to global shipping could take weeks or months to unravel.

"We have movement, which is good news. But I wouldn't say it's a piece of cake now," Peter Berdowski, the CEO of Smit Salvage's parent company Boskalis, told Dutch public radio.

High pressure water would be injected under the bow of the ship, which is still stuck, to remove sand and clay but if that was unsuccessful, containers might have to be removed from the ship, which would cause a considerable delay, he said.

A source involved in the salvage operation told Reuters on Monday they were re-ballasting the ship and expected that with a favorable tide, cargo would not need to be removed.

"The good news is she's moved. But she is still stuck in the mud. A second large anchor-handling tug will arrive this morning. Hopefully they will be able to pull her free." The ship's technical manager, Bernhard Schulte Shipmanagement (BSM), said operations to ensure the vessel is completely refloated were continuing.

Video footage posted on social media showed the ship had swung around, opening space in the canal. Other footage, filmed at dawn, included celebratory cheering and horns sounding from the tugs around the ship.

Crude oil prices dipped after the progress in refloating the ship, with Brent crude down around US$0.45 per barrel to US$64.12. Shares of Taiwan-listed Evergreen Marine Corp - the vessel's lessor - rose 1.75 per cent.

About 15 per cent 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 US$14-US$15 million 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.

Some shippers rerouted their cargoes around the Cape of Good Hope, adding up to two weeks to journeys and extra fuel costs.

Maersk said it had redirected 15 vessels around the Cape after calculating that the journey would be equal to the current delay of sailing to Suez and queuing.

"Assessing the current backlog of vessels, it could take 6 days or more for the complete queue to pass," Maersk said.

REUTERS

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