CAIRO (BLOOMBERG) - The giant container ship blocking the Suez Canal has been at least partially refloated, the first step towards getting one of the world's most important trade arteries moving again.
The Ever Given was successfully refloated on Monday (March 29) at about 4.30am local time in Egypt and the vessel is currently being secured, maritime services provider Inchcape Shipping Services said in an e-mail.
It followed a new attempt to dislodge the ship involving 10 tug boats, according to the Suez Canal Authority.
There was no immediate clarity on the crucial question of when traffic in the canal will restart. The ship has a damaged hull and it is not clear how soon it will be able to clear the way for other vessels to pass.
Ever Given - which is longer than the canal is wide and was wedged across the waterway - has been stuck since last Tuesday, causing a backlog of hundreds of ships and snarling global supply lines that were already under pressure.
Salvage teams used tugs and dredgers to extract the ship's bow from the sandy bank where it was lodged at least 5m in.
Once the vessel has been cleared, the authorities will work to allow traffic to resume through the canal that is a conduit for about 12 per cent of world trade.
At last count, 450 vessels were stuck, waiting or headed to the waterway. Others have diverted to the longer route around the southern tip of Africa.
Shipping experts still anticipate already-stretched ocean freight markets will see even more tightness over the coming months because of disrupted schedules and the uneven wave of cargo that will hit ports down the line.
"The dominoes have been toppled," Mr Lars Jensen, chief executive of SeaIntelligence Consulting in Copenhagen, wrote on social media over the weekend.
"The delays and rerouting which have already happened will cause ripple effects on both vessels and empty equipment which will be felt for several months."
Companies from Ikea to Caterpillar Inc have been affected by the snarl-up and thousands of live animals are stuck on ships in the area. Consumer goods, industrial inputs, and commodities from oil to coffee are caught up in the jam, with Asian exporters and European importers affected most directly.
A rough estimate shows the blockage is costing about US$400 million (S$538 million) an hour, based on calculations from Lloyd's List that suggest westbound traffic is worth around US$5.1 billion a day and eastbound traffic is approximately US$4.5 billion.
The accident - which happened as the giant vessel tried to navigate the canal with high winds and poor visibility - is another reminder of the fragility of global supply chains that have already been tested by the pandemic.
The container industry was already suffering a supply crunch for the truck-size boxes that are now crucial to trade - and operating at full capacity.
The investigation into what went wrong as the Ever Given tried to navigate the narrow waterway continues, as well as the untangling of liabilities and insurance claims.