The colossal container ship blocking the Suez Canal has been partially freed by engineers and salvage crews, six days after becoming wedged diagonally across one of the world’s most heavily used shipping lanes.
Tug boats dislodged the bow of the 1,300-foot vessel from the eastern bank of the waterway on Monday, and are continuing attempts to refloat the ship so that it can resume moving up the canal—followed by the 360-plus trade vessels that have become backlogged and stranded in the Mediterranean and Red Sea since Tuesday.
“It is good news,” Osama Rabie, chairman of the Suez Canal Authority, which operates the waterway, told the Wall Street Journal (WSJ). “We are not finished yet, but it has moved.” It is not yet clear how soon the vital trade route will be reopened.
The cargo ship, named the MV Ever Given and operated by Taiwan-based Evergreen Group, set off from the Suez port in Egypt on March 23 and was expected to arrive in the Netherlands on March 31. Strong winds caused the vessel to become stuck in the canal, completely obstructing the shortest sea link between Asia and Europe, where up to 12 percent of annual world trade flows.
It was previously suggested that it could take weeks to dislodge.
“We can’t exclude it might take weeks, depending on the situation,” Boskalis CEO Peter Berdowski told Dutch television programme Nieuwsuur. “It is like an enormous beached whale. It’s an enormous weight on the sand. We might have to work with a combination of reducing the weight by removing containers, oil and water from the ship, tug boats and dredging of sand.”
More recent projections wagered that the timeline could be in the ballpark of several days, as dredgers worked to remove hundreds of thousands of cubic feet of sand from around the ship’s bow. Significant progress was made late on Friday, when salvagers managed to free the Ever Green’s rudder and turn on the engines, and continued throughout the weekend. A full moon began on Sunday, bringing higher-than-usual spring tides that were helping with the effort, a person involved told WSJ—claiming that the ship had moved around 25 yards.
When the Ever Green is finally freed, the Suez Canal Authority is expected to try to increase the number of ships moving through the waterway in a bid to clear the backlog of vessels. But analysts have warned that a deluge of ships moving through the Suez Canal could congest European destination ports such as Rotterdam and Antwerp, stretching out waiting times for the ships to unload their cargo.
Industry experts have estimated that the total value of goods marooned at sea as a result of the blockage is anywhere between $3.9 billion and $12.6 billion—and up to 90 percent of the affected cargo is not insured against delays, according to maritime shipping journal Lloyd’s List. Apart from goods, some 130,000 head of livestock, distributed across 11 ships, have also become trapped in the traffic jam.
“My greatest fear is that animals run out of food and water and they get stuck on the ships because they cannot be unloaded somewhere else for paperwork reasons,” Gerit Weidinger, EU coordinator for Animals International, told The Guardian. “Getting stuck on board means there is a risk [for the animals] of starvation, dehydration, injuries, waste buildup so they can’t lie down, and nor can the crew get rid of dead animal bodies in the canal.
“It’s basically a ticking biohazard timebomb for animals and the crew and any person involved.”
The ship’s Japanese owner Shoei Kisen Kaisha has previously apologised for the disruption. “We sincerely apologise for causing a great deal of concern to the vessels scheduled to sail and their related parties while navigating the Suez Canal due to the accident of this vessel,” the group said in a statement, adding that there was no information on crew injuries or oil spills.
The Ever Given has acquired a cult status online after VICE World News publicised the fact that the ship charted a dick-shaped course immediately before getting wedged in the Suez.
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