The container ship continues to block transit along the Suez Canal in Ismailia, Egypt, March 28 2021. Picture: ISLAM SAFWAT/BLOOMBERG
The container ship continues to block transit along the Suez Canal in Ismailia, Egypt, March 28 2021. Picture: ISLAM SAFWAT/BLOOMBERG

Ismailia — Suez Canal salvage teams were alternating between dredging and tugging on Sunday to dislodge a huge 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 27,000m³ of sand, to a depth of 18m, and efforts would continue around the clock according to wind conditions and tides, the Suez Canal Authority said.

Egypt’s President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi has ordered preparations for the possible removal of some of the ship’s 18,300 containers, Suez Canal Authority chair Osama Rabie told Egypt’s Extra News. Any operation to lighten the ship’s load would not start before Monday, an Suez Canal Authority source said.

The 400m-long Ever Given became jammed diagonally across a southern section of the canal in high winds five days ago, halting shipping traffic in one of the world’s busiest waterways.

At least 369 boats are waiting to transit the canal, 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 Suez Canal Authority and a team from Dutch firm Smit Salvage have been weighing whether some cargo will need to be removed by crane 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. 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.

“There are positive indicators,” 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 4m deviation in the bow and the stern.”

However, two Suez Canal Authority sources said that a bed of rock had been found at the bow of the ship, complicating 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 Rabie, adding that 14 tug boats were being deployed.

About 15% of world shipping traffic transits the Suez Canal, which is a source of foreign currency revenues for Egypt. The current stoppage is costing the canal $14m-$15m 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.


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