New attempts planned to free huge vessel stuck in Suez Canal

Grant Boone
March 27, 2021

It is now hoped that tug boats can make use of the winds and tides Saturday to dislodge the 224,000-ton ship, the head of the Suez Canal Authority (SCA), Osama Rabie, told Egyptian news outlet Youm7.

The MV Ever Given has been wedged diagonally across the span of the Suez canal since Tuesday.

The Suez blockage costs approximately $400 million per hour in delayed goods, according to an estimate from Lloyd's List. Japanese owner Shoei Kisen has asked for forgiveness and said the job was proving "extremely hard".

Ratings agency Moody's expects Europe's manufacturing and auto parts suppliers to be most affected because they operate "just-in-time" supply chains, and said port congestion and further delays to the supply chain were "inevitable".

Economic fallout began as soon as the Ever Given ran aground, with the price of crude oil fluctuating wildly.

The crisis closed the canal until March 30 when, according to a report in the Toronto Star, "the first convoy to transit the Suez Canal in five months cleared through Port Said ... and passed into the Mediterranean to a deafening salvo of whistles and cheers".

The Suez Canal, which separates the continent of Africa from the Middle East and Asia, is one of the busiest trade routes in the world, handling about 12% of all world trade.

The US military can also give support and advice to ships which, blocked from using the canal, opt for the long journey around the southern tip of Africa, which could take them through waters menaced by pirates.

In addition to oil, consumer goods such as clothing, furniture and auto parts are transported through the canal.

The blockage is holding up an estimated $9.6bn (£7bn) of goods each day - or $400m an hour - according to data from Lloyd's List.

"Rough calculations suggest westbound traffic is worth around $5.1 billion daily while eastbound traffic is worth $4.5 billion", said Lloyd's.

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"Every port in western Europe will feel the effects", said a spokesman for the Dutch port of Rotterdam, the EU's largest.

Detouring also means adding at least a week or more to travel itineraries, costing hundreds of thousands in additional fuel expenses.

Authorities are still determing how to move the ship.

Egypt's Suez Canal Authority said the megaship veered off course and ran aground when winds reaching 40 knots whipped up a sandstorm that affected visibility.

- "If the blockage lasts much longer, however - there is now talk of it taking up to a week to free the ship - we could see local supply bottlenecks", Carsten Fritsch, energy analyst at Commerzbank Research, said in a note. There is no problem with its rudders and propellers. "Once it refloats, it should be able to operate", Higaki was quoted as saying.

Up to 20,000 cubic metres of sand in the canal need to be removed to free the container ship, the canal authority said on Thursday.

"We apologize for blocking the traffic and causing tremendous trouble and worry to many people, including the involved parties", he added.

The blockage has caused a huge traffic jam for more than 200 ships at either end of the 193-kilometer (120-mile) long canal and major delays in the delivery of oil and other products.

Yukito Higaki, president of Shoei Kisen, the company that owns the giant container ship, told a news conference in Imabari, Japan on Friday night that 10 tugboats were deployed and workers were dredging the banks and sea floor near the vessel's bow to try to get it afloat again.

Smit Salvage, which has worked on some of the most famous wrecks of recent years, confirmed that "two additional tugs" would arrive by Sunday to assist.

Crews have been working overnight with large dredging machines under floodlights, but the ship - the size of the Empire State Building in NY - has not budged yet.

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