The colossal container ship that’s been wedged across the Suez Canal for almost a week was “successfully refloated” as of Monday morning, according the chairman of Egypt’s canal authority, but it was unclear when shipping through the critical waterway would resume.
A statement posted to the Egyptian government’s Suez Canal Authority (SCA), attributed to chairman and director Admiral Osama Rabie, said the MV Ever Given “has been successfully refloated. This was the result of successful push and tow manoeuvres which led to the restoration of 80% of the vessel’s direction.”
The SCA said the stern of the hulking cargo ship was now positioned about 335 feet from the bank of the canal, whereas it had previously been stuck only about 15 feet from the bank.
High tide was expected at 11:30 a.m. local time (5:30 a.m. Eastern), which the SCA said would allow “for the full restoration of the vessel’s direction so it is positioned in the middle of the navigable waterway.”
“His Excellency, Admiral Rabie, would like to reassure the international navigation society as navigation shall be resumed immediately upon the complete restoration of the vessel’s direction and directing it to the Bitter Lakes waiting area for technical inspection,” the agency said, suggesting that other ships would be permitted to start transiting the canal as soon as the Ever Given was on the move again.
The ship was wedged several miles north of the canal’s southern entrance from the Red Sea, and it wasn’t clear how long it would take crews to move it — under its own power or by tub boats — to the Bitter Lakes, a large holding area in the middle of the canal, which would allow other vessels to navigate around it. As soon as the Ever Given is underway, however, the SCA could let other ships start entering from the south, and declare the canal open.
The CEO of the parent company of Smit Salvage, which has been involved in efforts to free the Ever Given, cautioned earlier on Monday, however, that getting the ship fully back into the navigation channel might not be “a piece of cake.”
The Reuters news agency quoted Boskalis CEO Peter Berdowski as telling Dutch Public Radio that a new tug would arrive and water would be sent under the ship’s bow to help free it, but if that doesn’t work, some containers on the Ever Given might still have to be removed to lighten it up.
And as CBS News correspondent Charlie D’Agata reports, even if the canal can open back up in the coming hours, it has already caused significant disruption.
“Even when it starts to flow again there’s going to be some days to clear that backlog, so you got those knock-on effects all the way through the supply chain,” said Guy Platten, Secretary-General of the International Chamber of Shipping. “You’ve got to remember that ships carry just about everything from medical equipment to food to grain to fuel to all the other things in between.”
But Mohab Mamish, an adviser to the Egyptian president for canal projects and the former head of the SCA, was also optimistic on Monday, telling CBS News that the ship was fully refloated and being examined to determine when it could be repositioned to unclog the logjam it created.
Global marine services provider Inchcape Shipping was the first to say the Ever Given had been freed. Inchcape said in a tweet that the Ever Given was “being secured at the moment. More information about next steps will follow once they are known.” The tweet included a diagram appearing to show the ship partially straightened.
Nearly a week ago, the skyscraper-sized Ever Given got stuck sideways in the crucial waterway, creating a massive traffic jam. The obstruction has been holding up $9 billion each day in global trade and straining supply chains already burdened by the coronavirus pandemic.
As of Monday, 367 vessels, carrying everything from crude oil to cattle, were still waiting to pass through the canal, while dozens more are taking the alternate route around the Cape of Good Hope at Africa’s southern tip, adding around two weeks to journeys and threatening delivery delays.
The freeing of the vessel came after intensive efforts to push and pull the vessel with 10 tugboats when the full moon brought spring tide, Leth Agencies said, raising the canal’s water level and hopes for a breakthrough.
Overnight, several dredgers had toiled to vacuum up 27,000 cubic metres of sand and mud around the ship. Another powerful tugboat, Carlo Magno, was racing to the scene to join the efforts.
Although the vessel is vulnerable to damage in its current position, Shoei Kisen Kaisha Ltd., the company that owns the Ever Given, dismissed concerns on Monday, saying that the ship’s engine was functional and it could pursue its trip normally when freed.
Canal authorities have desperately tried to free the vessel by relying on tugs and dredgers alone, even as analysts warned that 1,300-feet-long ship, weighing some 220,000 tons, may be too heavy for such an operation. As a window for a breakthrough narrowed with high tide receding this week, fears had grown that authorities would be forced to lighten the vessel by removing some of the ship’s 20,000 containers — a complex operation, requiring specialized equipment not found in Egypt, that could take days or weeks.