Sandstorm not main reason behind mega ship Ever Given blockage of the Suez Canal, 321 vessels jammed: SCA chairman

Menna Alaa El-Din , Saturday 27 Mar 2021

Rabie said in a press conference that other factors resulted in the vessel running aground, without revealing further details

Osama Rabie, Chairman of the Suez Canal Authority, talks during a news conference in Suez, Egypt Mar
Osama Rabie, Chairman of the Suez Canal Authority, talks during a news conference in Suez, Egypt March 27, 2021. REUTERS

Tuesday's sandstorm was not the main reason behind the blockage of the strategic Suez Canal, according to Suez Canal Authority (SCA) Chairman Osama Rabie.

Rabie said in a press conference that other factors resulted in the vessel running aground, stressing that “all would be revealed following investigations”.

"It could be a technical or human error. All will be determined following investigations,” he said, adding that twelve vessels in the south crossed the canal shortly before the blockage, while there were 20 others crossing from the north.

He also said that there were “no injuries, deaths or pollution” caused by the crisis.

Around 321 vessels were currently jammed in the Suez Canal or at anchor awaiting transit, Rabie said, adding that the canal was providing all necessary logistics to the waiting ships.

He also said that the blockage did not occur in the new Suez Canal, but in the older channel’s southern entrance.

 If [the incident] was in the new canal, it would have been resolved easily,” said Rabie, adding that the Ever Given vessel has crossed the canal before.

Moreover, he said that larger ships have crossed the canal before with no obstacles.

Tugging and dredging efforts in the past days have led to the move of the ship’s stern and rudder, therefore helping in the ongoing re-floating attempts. It was however “difficult to determine when the container ship saga, blocking the strategic Suez Canal, would be resolved”.

According to Rabie, 14 tugboats were now participating in the rescue mission and that there has been progress.

He hopes that the authority does not have to resort to a scenario which would require offloading the Ever Given’s containers - estimated at around 18,300 - if current efforts are not successful.

Offloading such heavy containers using helicopters is difficult. This [offloading] is usually done through other empty vessels and cranes of considerable height to offload containers from above,” said Rabie.

He then estimated that the strategic waterway was losing $12 to $14 million daily in revenues due to the saga, stressing that the crisis has revealed the importance of the canal as a global shipping lane.

Compensations or fines from the owner of the Ever Given are done in accordance to legal rules consequential to the outcomes of the investigations being made on the crisis, he added.

As soon as we conclude the re-floating operation, the Suez Canal authority will work around-the-clock to evacuate jammed vessels. We will sit with shipping operators and see what we can provide, as we cannot give up our clients,” he said.

The Suez Canal remains the safest - globally - in maritime routes he said, adding that crossing through the Cape of Good Hope as an alternative was “long, unsafe and costly” in comparison to the canal.

 I don’t expect that there are navigation lines that would change its destination or path from the canal. We will work after the crisis on providing incentives to the lines dealing with the canal,” he said.

Rabie thanked the United States, China, United Arab Emirates and Greece for offering to assist in the crisis.

Jules Martina, a Representative from the Dutch emergency response team: SMIT Salvage, who was hired to assist in the rescue operations, said the team was confident that the rescue operation could succeed.

However, he said there was no specific timeframe for the offloading of the containers.

We are confident that this mission can be accomplished, as we have carried several salvage operations globally,” Martina added.

The blockage continues to impede the world's busiest maritime trade route linking Asia and Europe, with vessels stranded in the Suez or at the anchor awaiting transit.

It 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.

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, having brought in $5.6 billion in revenues in 2020.

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