SUEZ, Egypt – Salvage teams freed the massive Ever Given container ship that had blocked the Suez Canal, one of the world’s key trade arteries, for the past seven days. Continuous digging and dredging, pulling and pushing and helping by swelling tides with the full moon rising to free the 220.000-tonne Ever Given that was diagonally lodged on the banks of the canal. After seven days and movements by yards and degrees, the ship was hauled to a position where it could undergo further technical inspection before it continues its trek to the West.
“Admiral Osama Rabie, head of the Suez Canal Authority (SCA), has announced the resumption of shipping traffic in the Suez canal,” says the SCA in a statement.
“We pulled it off!” says Peter Berdowski, chief executive of the Dutch salvaging firm Boskalis, which was hired to assist in the process. “I am excited to announce that our team of experts, working in close collaboration with the Suez Canal Authority, successfully refloated the Ever Given on 29 March at 15:05 hours local time, thereby making free passage through the Suez canal possible again.”
Thirty thousand cubic meters of sand had been dredged to help free the vessel, which had been pulled free using 13 tugboats, says Berdowski.
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For six days, the blockage caused a massive traffic jam in the vital passage, that cost global trade between $6 billion to $10 billion per day according to one estimate, and further strained supply chains already burdened by the coronavirus pandemic.
It is still unclear when traffic through the canal would return to normal. At least 367 vessels, carrying a vast range of items from crude oil to cattle, have piled up on either end of the canal, waiting to pass.
Early in the afternoon, Egypt’s president, Abdel Fatah al-Sisi, declared in a statement that the ship was freed and called the operation a national victory. “Today, Egyptians have been successful in putting to an end the crisis of the stranded ship in the Suez canal, despite the enormous complexity surrounding the process,” he tweets.
A symbol of independence and pride since it was nationalized in 1956, the canal had been dug by “their grandparents with the force of their bodies”, Sisi says. “Egyptians have proved today that they are still up to the task.”
The financial data firm Refinitiv said on Monday the accident was costing the state-owned Suez Canal Authority about $16m a day in lost revenues.
Although the success of the salvage team was difficult to assess during the first five days as excavators and dredgers worked to remove thousands of cubic meters of thick sand in which the megaship had become jammed, all efforts turned out all right in the end.
It would still take some days before other ships can sail through the canal, says Greek sea captain whose oil tanker got stuck behind the Ever Given.
Even with the vessel released, it could be several days before other ships can sail through the canal, says a Greek sea captain Konstantinos Arletis whose oil tanker is stuck behind the Ever Given. “According to the canal’s rules they have to remove it.”
“Other ships aren’t allowed to sail next to it … we’re being told an inspection has to be conducted first to see what damage the canal has sustained and if repairs are needed,” says Arletis on a local TV.
“When they tugged the ship quite a lot of sand was dislodged, which has changed the depth of the canal.”
On 23 March, the Ever Given jammed diagonally across a southern section of the canal after high winds pushed one side the ship to one side of the canal’s bank, halting traffic on the shortest shipping route between Europe and Asia.
There are at least 369 vessels waiting to transit the canal, Rabie said, including dozens of container ships, bulk carriers, oil tankers and liquefied natural gas or liquefied petroleum gas vessels.
Meanwhile, other ships have already been rerouted around South Africa’s Cape of Good Hope, a 5,500-mile (9,000km) diversion that takes seven to 10 days longer and adds a huge fuel bill to the trip between Asia and Europe. (DS)