A container ship hit by strong wind and ran aground in the Suez Canal, Egypt, March 24, 2021. Picture: SUEZ CANAL AUTHORITY/VIA REUTERS
A container ship hit by strong wind and ran aground in the Suez Canal, Egypt, March 24, 2021. Picture: SUEZ CANAL AUTHORITY/VIA REUTERS

Cairo — Some traffic through the Suez Canal was expected to  resume on Wednesday or Thursday after progress in moving a giant ship blocking the waterway.

The Ever Given, a container ship longer than the Eiffel Tower that ran aground in the southern part of the canal in Egypt, has been partially moved and is alongside the bank, said Ahmed Mekawy, deputy manager for the Suez Canal for GAC, a provider of port-agent services.

The ship is expected to be refloated shortly, then the Suez Canal Authority will work on resuming transit for all waiting ships, Mekawy said. The SCA had not yet commented on whether the ship had been moved.

The incident has left dozens of vessels gridlocked as they attempted to transit between the Red Sea and Mediterranean. Efforts to remove the ship proceeded faster than initial warnings that traffic through the canal could be choked off for days.

The 193km Suez Canal is among the most used waterways, used by tankers shipping crude from the Middle East to Europe and North America. About 12% of global trade and 8% of liquefied natural gas pass through the canal, as do about 1-million barrels of oil each day.

The disruption comes at a time when oil prices were already volatile. Crude surged above $70 a barrel earlier in March on Saudi production cuts, only to slump close to $60 this week due to setbacks in Europe’s coronavirus vaccine programme.

Brent crude rose 2.2% to $62.13 as of 11.42am on Wednesday in London.

The Ever Given was grounded early on Tuesday amid poor visibility caused by a dust storm and wind speeds that reached 40 knots, resulting in a “loss of the ability to steer the ship”, according to the canal authority.

The vessel deviated “from its course due to suspected sudden strong wind”, Taiwan-based Evergreen Line, the time charterer of the vessel, said in an e-mailed response to questions. Japan’s Shoei Kisen Kaisha, among those listed as the ship’s owner, declined to comment.

About 42 vessels either in the northbound convoy or arriving to transit the canal in that direction were waiting for the Ever Given to be refloated, Leth Agencies, one of the top providers of Suez Canal crossing services, said in a notice to clients. The company said it is sending a dredger to help free the ship.

About 64 vessels travelling southbound were also affected. GAC said 15 affected ships are waiting at anchorage.

Navigation is possible along the old canal, the canal authority said. But the vessel is stuck at a point that can’t be bypassed so the old canal can’t help.

Ever Given was travelling from China to Rotterdam. The crew are safe and accounted for, and there have been no reports of injuries or pollution, according to the ship’s management firm, Bernhard Schulte Shipmanagement. The vessel is carrying cargo for logistics company Orient Overseas Container Line, according to Mark Wong, a spokesperson for OOCL.

Ever Given, about 400m long, was built in Japan about three years ago. Shipping companies have been turning to mega-sized vessels to help improve economies of scale. Some key routes, including the Suez Canal, have been widened and deepened over the years to accommodate them.

Bloomberg

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