Egypt temporarily suspended navigation in its strategic Suez Canal on Thursday as efforts continued for the third consecutive day to dislodge the giant Ever Given cargo ship blocking the waterway.
Suez Canal Authority (SCA) Chairman Osama Rabie stated that navigation will continue to be suspended until “the flotation works of the large Panamanian container vessel that ran aground at the 151km area are completed.”
The giant cargo ship ran aground on Tuesday morning due to low visibility and poor navigation believed to be caused by a strong sandstorm and 40-knot winds.
Flotation efforts underway include towing and pushing the vessel through eight large tugboats, with the largest equipped with a towing power of 160 tons, Rabie said.
A handout picture released by the Suez Canal Authority on March 25, 2021 shows the Taiwan-owned MV Ever Given (Evergreen), a 400-metre- (1,300-foot-)long and 59-metre wide vessel, lodged sideways and impeding all traffic across the waterway of Egypt's Suez Canal. AFP
He added that 13 vessels transited on Wednesday from Port Said in a convoy after it dropped anchor in the Bitter Lakes waiting area until navigation can be fully resumed.
Smit Salvage, a subsidiary of the Dutch marine services company Boskalis, has been hired to help with the salvage operation, with a team of around 10 people heading to Egypt to assist in the rescue efforts of the vessel which is 400 metres long, 59 metres wide, and can carry up to 224,000 tons, Peter Berdowski, CEO of Boskalis, told Dutch media.
The blockage continues to impede the world's busiest maritime trade route linking Asia and Europe, with vessels stranded in Suez or at anchor awaiting transit rising to 213 vessels of 16.9 deadweight tonnage, according to Lloyd’s List Intelligence.
The vessels include 63 bulk carriers, 28 crude tankers, and one LNG carrier, among others, according to the maritime intelligence service.
The blockage has heavily impacted oil markets, which saw Brent crude and US West Texas Intermediate crude surging by around six percent on Wednesday over the disruption of the strategic pathway.
However, oil prices fell on Thursday as concerns over the pandemic in Europe outweighed disruptions at the canal.
Images on social media on Thursday showed attempts by authorities to dig around the Ever Given’s bow which is wedged into the wall under attempts to free the ship.
Japanese shipowner Shoei Kisen apologised for the incident and said work was underway to free the ship.
Bernhard Schulte Shipmanagement (BSM), the technical manager of Ever Given, said dredgers were working to clear sand and mud from around the vessel, while tugboats in conjunction with Ever Given's winches were working to shift it.
BSM described the situation as “extremely difficult.”
Berdowsk told the Dutch media that "it is too early to say how long the job might take," adding that "it can take days to weeks."
He described Egypt's efforts to refloat the ship as a brave attempt.
Speaking on the methodology the Dutch mission will adopt, Berdowski said "it remains to be investigated… the first thing you have to do is calculate."
According to Berdowski, containers could be unloaded, including water, to lose as much weight as possible. He explained that the ship resembles a heavy whale on the beach and that is why it is not possible to pull loose.
CNN cited an official as saying that up to 100 ships could be congesting behind the vessel and that they will likely increase over time.
About 12 percent of world trade passes through the Suez Canal, which is the fastest water artery between Europe and Asia.
The canal is a main source of foreign currency for Egypt, bringing in $5.6 billion in revenues in 2020.