Cargo ship stuck in Suez Canal where $10 billion worth of goods pass through every day

Published 12:00 am Friday, March 26, 2021

By Jon Gambrell and Samy Magdy

Associated Press

ISMAILIA, Egypt — Dredgers, tugboats and even a backhoe failed to free a giant cargo ship wedged in Egypt’s Suez Canal on Thursday. More than 150 vessels are now backed up, with hundreds more headed to the vital waterway, and losses to global shipping are mounting.

The mishap is holding up traffic in the canal that carries nearly $10 billion worth of goods every day, so a quick clearing of the logjam is key to limiting the economic fallout.

The skyscraper-sized Ever Given, carrying cargo between Asia and Europe, ran aground Tuesday in the narrow, man-made canal dividing continental Africa from the Sinai Peninsula. Even helped by high tides, authorities have been unable to push the Panama-flagged container vessel aside, and they are looking for new ideas to free it.

In a sign of the turmoil the blockage has caused, the ship’s Japanese owner even offered a written apology.

“We are determined to keep on working hard to resolve this situation as soon as possible,” Shoei Kisen Kaisha Ltd. said. “We would like to apologize to all parties affected by this incident, including the ships traveling and planning to travel through Suez Canal.”

As efforts to free it resumed at daylight Thursday, an Egyptian canal authority official said workers hoped to avoid offloading containers from the vessel as it would take days to do so and extend the closure. The official spoke on condition of anonymity as he wasn’t authorized to talk to journalists.

So far, dredgers have tried to clear silt around the massive ship. Tug boats nudged the vessel alongside it, trying to gain momentum. From the shore, at least one backhoe dug into the canal’s sandy banks, suggesting the bow of the ship had plowed into it. However, satellite photos taken Thursday and analyzed by The Associated Press showed the vessel still stuck in the same place.

The vessel remained stuck as of Thursday despite “continuous” efforts to refloat it, according to canal service provider Leth Agencies.

Lt. Gen. Osama Rabei, the head of the canal authority, said navigation through the waterway would remain halted until the Ever Given is refloated. A team from Boskalis, a Dutch firm specialized in salvaging, arrived at the canal Thursday, although one of its top officials warned removing the vessel could take “days to weeks.”

A team from the Boskalis subsidiary SMIT “spent the day doing inspections and doing calculations to assess the state of the vessel and a plan on how to refloat the vessel,” spokesman Martijn Schuttevaer told the AP. He did not offer a time frame.

The Suez Canal Authority said one idea the team discussed was scraping the bottom of the canal around the ship.

Bernhard Schulte Shipmanagement, the company that manages the Ever Given, said they were focusing on dredging to remove sand and mud from around the port side of the vessel’s bow.

Boskalis chairman Peter Berdowski described the ship as “a very heavy whale on the beach.”

“The ship, with the weight it now has, can’t really be pulled free. You can forget it,” he told the Dutch program “Nieuwsuur.”

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