No timeline given for freeing huge ship blocking Suez Canal
New attempt to free vessel under way Saturday as blockage causes huge traffic jam and forces ships to reroute around Africa.
A giant container ship remained stuck sideways in Egypt’s Suez Canal for a fifth day Saturday, as authorities prepared to make new attempts to free the vessel and reopen a crucial east-west waterway for global shipping.
The Ever Given, a Panama-flagged ship that carries cargo between Asia and Europe, ran aground Tuesday in the narrow canal that runs between Africa and the Sinai Peninsula.
The massive vessel got stuck in a single-lane stretch of the canal, about six kilometres (3.7 miles) north of the southern entrance, near the city of Suez.
Efforts to dislodge the ship had allowed its stern and rudder to move on Saturday, but it remained unclear when it could be refloated, the head of the canal authority told a press conference Saturday in Suez.
“The ship’s stern began to move towards Suez, and that was a positive sign until 11pm (21:00 GMT) at night, but the tide fell significantly and we stopped,” Osama Rabie told journalists.
He said they could not lay out a set timetable for when the ship might be dislodged but that he remained hopeful that a dredging operation could free the ship without having to resort to lighten it by removing its cargo.
“We expect that at any time the ship could slide and move from the spot it is in,” he added.
A maritime traffic jam grew to around 321 vessels near Port Said on the Mediterranean Sea, Port Suez on the Red Sea and in the canal system on Egypt’s Great Bitter Lake, Rabei said.
He said authorities had not ruled out that “technical or human errors” could be behind the grounding of the vessel.
“Strong winds and weather factors were not the main reasons for the ship’s grounding, there may have been technical or human errors,” he also said.
Egyptian Prime Minister Mostafa Madbouly on Saturday thanked foreign partners for offers to help refloat the ship.
Egypt’s Suez Canal Authority said the Ever Given veered off course and ran aground on Tuesday when strong winds whipped up a sandstorm that affected visibility.
The blockage has caused a huge traffic jam for more than 200 ships at both ends of the 193km (120-mile) long canal and major delays in the delivery of oil and other products.
Shoei Kisen said in a statement on Saturday that the company has considered removing its containers to get the weight off the vessel, but that it would be a very difficult operation. The company said it may still consider that option if the continuing refloating efforts fail.
“It’s a complex technical operation” that will require several attempts to free the vessel, Lieutenant General Osama Rabie, head of the Suez Canal Authority, said in a statement.
Bernhard Schulte Shipmanagement (BSM), the ship’s technical manager firm, said on Friday that an attempt to refloat the vessel had failed.
“The focus is now on dredging to remove sand and mud from around the port side of the vessel’s bow,” BSM said.
Smit Salvage, a Dutch firm that has worked on some of the most famous wrecks of recent years, confirmed there would be “two additional tugs” arriving by Sunday to assist, it added.
There had been “no reports of pollution or cargo damage and initial investigations rule out any mechanical or engine failure as a cause of the grounding”.
Crews had been seen working through the night, using a large dredging machine under floodlights.
But the vessel with gross tonnage of 219,000 and deadweight of 199,000 has yet to budge.
The Suez Canal Authority has said it welcomes international assistance. The White House said it has offered to help Egypt reopen the canal. “We have equipment and capacity that most countries don’t have and we’re seeing what we can do and what help we can be,” US President Joe Biden told reporters.
The Egyptian government has agreed to “an offer of help”, CNN reported on Friday, adding that the US Navy in the region plans to send “an assessment team of dredging experts to the Suez Canal as soon as Saturday”.