SUEZ Canal salvage teams were alter-nating between dredging and tugging on Sunday to dislodge a massive container ship blocking the busy waterway, while two sources said efforts had been complicated by rock under the ship's bow.
Dredgers working to dislodge the stranded vessel have so far shifted 27,000 cubic metres of sand, to a depth of 18 metres, and efforts would continue around the clock according to wind conditions and tides, the Suez Canal Authority (SCA) said in a statement.
Egypt's President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi has ordered preparations for the possible removal of some of the ship's 18,300 containers, SCA chairman Osama Rabie told Egypt's Extra News.
Any operation to lighten the ship's load would not start before Monday, an SCA source said.
The 400-metre long Ever Given became jammed diagonally across a southern section of the canal in high winds more than five days ago, halting shipping traffic in one of the world's busiest waterways.
At least 369 vessels are waiting to transit the canal, Mr Rabie said, including dozens of container ships, bulk carriers, oil tankers and liquefied natural gas (LNG) or liquefied petroleum gas (LPG) vessels.
Shippers affected by the blockage may be offered discounts, he said, adding that he believed investigations would show the canal was not responsible for the Ever Given running aground.
Rescue workers from the SCA and a team from Dutch firm Smit Salvage have been weighing whether some cargo will need to be removed by crane in order to refloat the Ever Given, one of the world's biggest container ships.
Experts have warned that such a process could be complex and lengthy. Mr Rabie said he hoped it would not be necessary, but that Egypt would take up offers of international assistance if it did switch to that strategy.
The two main options for this lightering process would either be huge cranes that sit atop barges, or powerful helicopters that could take off the boxes - each one potentially holding up to 22 tonnes of cargo.
Neither is an easy solution. Heavy-lift helicopters are hugely expensive and deciding the issue of who pays for them would need resolving too. The crane option isn't straightforward either. There are relatively few barge cranes big enough to lift boxes from such tall ships, and again, it's arduous.
"There are positive indicators from yesterday and the day before yesterday," Mr Rabie told Egyptian state TV. "The rudder was not moving and it is now moving, the propeller is working now, there was no water underneath the bow, and now there is water under it, and yesterday there was a four-metre deviation in the bow and the stern."
However, two SCA sources told Reuters that a mass of rock had been found at the bow of the ship, compli-cating salvage efforts.
"We're dividing the day into two halves, 12 hours for dredgers and 12 hours for tugs, because not all times are suitable for tugs due to the tide," said Mr Rabie, adding that 14 tug boats were being deployed.
About 15 per cent of world shipping traffic transits the Suez Canal, which is a key source of foreign currency revenues for Egypt.
The current stoppage is costing the canal US$14-15 million daily.
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.
If the blockage drags on, shippers may decide to reroute their cargoes around the Cape of Good Hope, adding about two weeks to journeys and extra fuel costs. REUTERS, BLOOMBERG