Traffic in Suez Canal resumes after stranded ship refloated

A tugboat pulling the Ever Given container ship after it was fully dislodged from the banks of the Suez Canal on March 29, 2021. PHOTO: AFP
A satellite image showing the Ever Given container ship after it was moved away from the eastern bank of the Suez Canal on March 29, 2021. PHOTO: EPA-EFE/ SATELLITE IMAGE 2020 MAXAR TECHNOLOGIES
The Ever Given, one of the world's largest container ships, after it was fully floated on March 29, 2021. PHOTO: REUTERS

ISMAILIA, EGYPT (REUTERS) - Shipping was on the move again late on Monday (March 29) in Egypt's Suez Canal after tugs refloated a giant container ship that had been blocking the channel for almost a week, causing a huge build-up of vessels around the waterway.

After the 400m-long Ever Given was dislodged, 113 ships were expected to transit the canal in both directions by early Tuesday morning, Suez Canal Authority (SCA) chairman Osama Rabie told reporters.

He said a backlog of 422 ships could be cleared in 3½ days.

The Ever Given had become jammed diagonally across a southern section of the canal in high winds early on March 23, halting traffic on the shortest shipping route between Europe and Asia.

Evergreen Line, which is leasing the Ever Given, said the ship would be inspected for seaworthiness in the Great Bitter Lake, which separates two sections of the canal.

"The ship was ready for limited navigation after an initial inspection and not a single container was damaged, but a second investigation will be more precise and if it was affected, it will show," Mr Rabie said.

At dawn on Monday, rescue workers from the SCA working with a team from Dutch firm Smit Salvage partially refloated the ship and straightened it in the canal.

After several hours, it shifted briefly back across the canal before being manoeuvred free by tugboats as the tide changed, a canal source said.

"The time pressure to complete this operation was evident and unprecedented," said Mr Peter Berdowski, chief executive of Smit Salvage owner Boskalis, after the Ever Given was refloated.

The company said approximately 30,000 cubic metres of sand was dredged to refloat the 224,000-tonne container ship and a total of 11 tugboats and two powerful sea tugs were used to pull the ship free.

Evergreen Line, which is leasing the Ever Given, confirmed the ship had been successfully refloated and said the vessel would be repositioned in a lake that sits between two sections of the canal and inspected for seaworthiness.

Bernhard Schulte Shipmanagement, the technical managers of the container ship, said there were no reports of pollution or cargo damage.

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Vessels waiting to transit the canal include dozens of container ships, bulk carriers, oil tankers and liquefied natural gas or liquefied petroleum gas vessels, Nile TV reported.

Mr Rabie said that within four days, traffic would return to normal. "We'll work day and night to end the backlog."

Vessels similar in size to the Ever Given, which is one of the world's largest container ships, could pass through the canal safely, he added, and the SCA would not change its policy on admitting such ships.

Shipping group Maersk said the knock-on disruptions to global shipping could take weeks or months to unravel.

Owners and charterers of delayed ships face at least US$24 million (S$32.4 million) in expenses they will be unable to recoup, as their insurance policies do not cover them, and cargo owners could also face uninsured losses, industry sources said.

Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi, who had not publicly commented on the blockage, said Egypt had ended the crisis and assured resumption of trade through the canal.

Oil prices fell 1 per cent after the ship was refloated, while shares of Taiwan-listed Evergreen Marine Corp rose.

About 15 per cent of world shipping traffic goes through the Suez Canal, which is an important source of foreign currency revenue for Egypt. The stoppage was costing the canal US$14 million to 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.

Maersk was among shippers rerouting cargoes around the Cape of Good Hope, adding up to two weeks to journeys and extra fuel costs.

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