Optimism but concern as Ever Given still stuck in Suez Canal

AFP , Sunday 28 Mar 2021

As extra boats head to help salvage efforts, experts are pinning hopes on a Sunday evening high tide to help dislodge the craft

suez canal
This satellite imagery released by Maxar Technologies shows tug boats and dredgers on March 27, 2021, attempting to free the Taiwan-operated MV Ever Given lodged sideways and impeding all traffic across Egypt's Suez Canal.AFP

Hope rose Sunday that salvage efforts could free a mammoth container ship that has blocked the Suez Canal for six days, crippling international trade and costing the global economy billions.

As extra boats head to help salvage efforts, experts are pinning hopes on a Sunday evening high tide to help dislodge the craft.

Two tugboats  the Italian-flagged Carlo Magno and the Dutch-flagged Alp Guard -- were steaming towards the vital waterway to help salvage operations, the MarineTraffic and VesselFinder ship-tracking websites said Sunday.

The MV Ever Given, which is longer than four football fields and towers over nearby palm trees and fields, has been wedged diagonally across the canal since Tuesday, blocking it in both directions.

The crisis has forced companies to choose between waiting or rerouting vessels around Africa, adding 9,000 kilometres (5,500 miles) and over a week to the trip between Asia and Europe, as well as vastly increased fuel costs.

Richard Meade, an editor at shipping data and news company Lloyd's List, said sources "close to the salvage operation" had told him optimism was rising "and they were hoping that the vessel could be moved within the next 24-48 hours".

Each day of the blockade could be costing global trade some $6-10 billion, according to a study published Friday by German insurer Allianz.

That translates to some 0.2 to 0.4 percentage points of annual trade growth each week.

And with billions of dollars-worth of cargo now stalled at either end of the Suez Canal, many operators have already made alternative plans.

Suez Canal Authority (SCA) chief Osama Rabie had told reporters on Saturday that the megaship could be afloat by Sunday night, depending on how it responds to the high tides.

He also told an Egyptian news channel the ship had moved from side to side for the first time late Saturday.

'It is a good sign,' he said, adding that 14 tugboats were deployed around the stricken vessel and salvage crews were working round the clock.

Ships re-routing 

Salvage teams are pressing efforts to remove sand around the ship, with 27,000 cubic metres (over 950,000 cubic feet) cleared so far at a depth of 18 metres, SCA spokesman George Safwat said Sunday.

The area has been placed under tight security, with extra military and police personnel deployed.

A high tide was expected to start Sunday night.

Plamen Natzkoff, an expert at VesselsValue, has warned that if efforts to float vessel during that high tide, there could be further delays.

In response, there has been a 'surge' in the number of vessels opting for the African route, Lloyd's List said Sunday.

"Most major container lines are now diverting ships round Cape of Good Hope and warning of supply chain disruption ahead. Some are starting to reject bookings," it said on Twitter.

Cargo giant Maersk said that by the end of the weekend, a total of 32 Maersk and partner vessels would be directly affected by the blockage, with 15 redirected.

That "is expected to rise while the salvage assessment is being made," it said.

French shipping giant CMA-CGM said Sunday two of its Asia-bound vessels would be re-routed, while it was considering air or rail transport for some clients.

Allianz warned the blockage was "the straw that breaks global trade's back".

'Suppliers' delivery times have lengthened since the start of the year and are now longer in Europe than during the peak of the Covid-19 pandemic,' it said.

Human error

The 200,000-tonne MV Ever Given veered off course in the Suez Canal on Tuesday, with officials blaming 40-knot gusts and a sandstorm.

But Rabie on Saturday said "technical or human errors" could have grounded the grounding of the Taiwan-run, Panama-flagged container ship near the southern end of the 193-kilometre (120-mile) long canal.

Some 369 ships are stalled at either end, Rabie told the Al-Arabiya news channel Sunday.

Egypt is losing some $12-14 million in revenue from the canal for each day it is closed, Rabie added, while Lloyd's List has said the blockage is holding up an estimated $9.6 billion-worth of cargo each day between Asia and Europe.

In a sign of the knock-on effects, authorities in war-wracked Syria said the crisis had hit its fuel imports from Iran and forced it to ration already scarce supplies.

Romania's animal health agency said 11 ships carrying livestock out of the country were also impacted, with NGO Animals International warning of a potential 'tragedy' affecting some 130,000 animals.

Egypt's agriculture ministry sent three veterinary teams to check on livestock stuck at sea and to provide fodder for the animals, state-run Al-Ahram news website said Sunday.

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