Around-the-clock Efforts to Free Ship Stranded in Suez Canal Continue

Dredgers working to dislodge the stranded ship have so far shifted 27,000 cubic metres of sand around the ship to reach a depth of 18 meters

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A view of earth moving equipment excavating near the Ever Given container ship in the Suez Canal.
A view of earth moving equipment excavating near the Ever Given container ship in the Suez Canal.Credit: Maxar Technologies / Reuters

Suez Canal salvage teams were alternating 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 ship have so far shifted 27,000 cubic metres of sand around the ship to reach a depth of 18 meters, the authority said in a statement.

The 400-metre (430-yard) long Ever Given became jammed diagonally across a southern section of the canal more than five days ago, halting shipping traffic on one of the world's busiest waterways.

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 Ever Given, a Panama-flagged ship that carries cargo between Asia and Europe, ran aground Tuesday in the narrow canal that runs between Africa and the Sinai Peninsula. The vessel got stuck diagonally across the single-lane southern stretch of the canal on Tuesday morning amid high winds and a dust storm.

Positive Indicators

"There are positive indicators from yesterday and the day before yesterday," 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 4-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, 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 percent 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 14-15 million dollars 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.

As of Saturday, 321 boats were waiting to transit the canal, including dozens of container ships, bulk carriers and liquefied natural gas (LNG) or liquefied petroleum gas (LPG) vessels.

The SCA, which had allowed some vessels to enter the canal in the hope the blockage could be cleared, said it had temporarily suspended all traffic last Thursday.

Thirteen vessels that sailed south from Port Said in a convoy on Wednesday had dropped anchor in the Bitter Lakes waiting area until navigation could be resumed, it said.

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.

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