SUEZ, Egypt — Shipping experts say it could take days or even weeks to dislodge Ever Given, a 224,000-ton container ship almost as long as the Empire State Building is tall, that is wedged across the Suez Canal, blocking one of the world’s busiest waterways since Tuesday.
The blockage at the canal is turning into a crisis. Freeing the vessel could take “days to weeks, depending on what you come across,” says Peter Berdowski, CEO of Boskalis. Its sister company SMIT Salvage is working to free the ship currently.
Attempts to refloat the vessel led to no avail says Bernhard Schulte Shipmanagement, the vessel’s technical manager.
Berdowski says his company determined it is impossible to free the ship with its cargo on board. “The ship, with the weight it now has is impossible to pull,” Berdowski says on Dutch TV. “You can forget about that.”
Berdowski says the first step would be to lighten the ship of its fuel oil and ballast water and try to move it during high tide. If that doesn’t work, however, staff will have to remove containers and dig or flush away the sand banks in which the ship is lodged.
SMIT has worked on the Costa Concordia which was grounded off the coast of Italy in 2012 and other high-profile salvage operations. Japanese Nippon Salvage is also appointed to help move the ship, the vessel’s operating company Evergreen Marine says in a statement.
Meanwhile, Thursday’s salvage efforts involved the use of two dredgers, nine tug boats, and four diggers on the bank of the canal authorities say in a statement. It had considered moving the ship by dredging the area around it during a meeting with the SMIT rescue team.
Technically very complicated
Refloating the gigantic vessel is “technically very complicated” and could take days says the senior canal pilot in an interview. And although the equipment to float the ship is available, it hugely depends on how it is used, says an official.
“If the method is not correct it might take a week, and if it’s done well, it might take two days,” he says on condition of anonymity.
Traffic in the waterway is now suspended as dislodging operations continue.
“There is no solution other than digging around the ship, which is what they are doing now using Egyptian dredges. But the problem is that the soil in this area is rocky, which breaks the heads of the equipment,” says the SCA source.
SMIT is considering unloading the fuel on board the vessel, but that move risks capsizing the ship he adds.
“Reducing the load in such cases must be done from the top. Egypt does not have a floating crane capable of reaching the height of the containers on the ship.”
The traffic jam grows
About 160 ships with vital fuel on board have been stranded and are waiting to pass through the blocked waterway while other bulk vessels hauling grain from either end of the canal have backed up.
Ships coming from the Mediterranean were allowed to wait in the Great Bitter Lake but the area has now reached its capacity of 43 vessels. Incoming ships will now anchor in the waiting areas of the Red Sea and the Mediterranean.
Roughly 30% of the world’s shipping container volume transits through the 193km (120mi) Suez Canal daily, and about 12% of total global trade of all goods.
Some shipping firms may be forced to reroute vessels around the tip of Africa, adding about a week to the journey
Maersk, the world’s largest shipping company says seven of its container ships are affected by the crisis. Four of the vessels are stuck in the nearby canal system while the other three are waiting to enter the passage, says the Danish company in a statement.
“This accident gave great trouble to various parties and we assume there would be damages to be claimed,” says Yumi Shinohara, vice manager of vessel management.
“However, at this moment we are focusing on refloating/getting off the reef, and still we do not know the details as to which parties, how much damage, and how much liability, and so on,” Shinohara points out.
“As the vessel is chartered, the responsibility for the expense in the recovery operation, third party liability and cost of repair, if any, is the owners’,” says charter company Evergreen Marine.
The Ever Given is owned by Japanese shipping company Shoei Kisen KK, Toshiaki Fujiwara. (DS)
Featured image: A satellite image taken on 25 March shows the Suez Canal blocked by the ship Ever Given after it ran aground. /Photo credit: CNN