The 400-meter-long container ship immobilized across the Suez Canal for the sixth day in a row on Sunday has withstood the latest refloating attempts, but an expected high tide in the evening could make life easier for rescuers.
New operations are being prepared to refloat the Ever Given – more than 220,000 tonnes – stuck since Tuesday diagonally across the canal, completely blocking this waterway of about 300 meters wide among the busiest in the world.
The hope of the high tide
The Suez Canal sees some 10% of international maritime trade pass through, and each day of blockage causes significant delays and costs for players in the sector.
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If a bailout attempt failed Friday, part of the hopes now rest on a high tide expected in the evening and which could help rescue teams.
A dozen tugs and dredges are mobilized to suck up the sand under the ship whose bow is embedded in the shore. According to Egyptian Suez Canal Authority (SCA) spokesperson George Safwat, some 27,000 cubic meters of sand have already been cleared, 18 meters deep.
The container ship was surrounded on Sunday morning by a few tugs, according to an AFP journalist. About sixty meters high with its load, it dominates the surrounding fields and palm trees.
The surroundings were placed under close surveillance by the security of the canal, but also by soldiers and police.
Two new dredges, currently in the Red Sea, are on the way: the Italian Carlo Magno and the Dutch Alp Guard, according to maritime traffic visualization sites. And two more Egyptian tugs are due to be put into service, according to the SCA.
Admiral Ossama Rabie, the chairman of the SCA, is optimistic. He told Egyptian television on Saturday that the ship had “moved 30 degrees right and left” for the first time, “a good indicator” of the progress of the efforts.
“Sources close to the rescue operation told me this morning that optimism in the team of experts is on the rise and they hope the ship can be unblocked in 24 to 48 hours,” Richard tweeted on Sunday. Meade, editor-in-chief of Lloyd’s list trade journal.
300 boats stranded
In the meantime, Ever Given is blocking more than 300 boats stuck at both ends of the passage connecting the Red Sea to the Mediterranean Sea, according to Ossama Rabie on Saturday. According to a report by insurer Allianz released Friday, each day of downtime could cost global trade between $ 6 billion and $ 10 billion.
And the first concrete effects are being felt: Syria indicated on Saturday that it had started to ration the distribution of fuels, in the face of the delay in the delivery of a cargo of oil. In addition, 11 cattle cargo ships from Romania are also stranded. The organization Animals International evokes a danger of death for the 130,000 animals. According to state newspaper Al-Ahram, Egypt’s agriculture ministry sent three veterinary teams to examine the animals.
The total value of goods blocked or having to take another route differs according to estimates: from three billion dollars per day according to Jonathan Owens, a logistics expert at the British University of Salford, to 9.6 billion according to Lloyd’s List, British magazine on maritime transport.
The canal authorities, for their part, stressed that Egypt was losing between 12 and 14 million dollars per day of closure. Nearly 19,000 ships used the canal in 2020, according to SCA.
While waiting for the resumption of traffic, several players in international maritime transport such as Maersk or the French shipowner CMA CGM have decided to divert some of their ships and go through the Cape of Good Hope, i.e. a detour of 9,000 kilometers and at least seven additional days of navigation around the African continent.
“The group has decided to divert two of its ships bound for Asia via the Cape of Good Hope and is studying other alternatives for its customers, the deployment of air or rail solutions via the Silk Road”, French shipowner explained to AFP on Sunday morning.
While the strong winds combined with a sandstorm had first been singled out to explain the incident, Ossama Rabie spoke on Saturday of a possible “human error” among the reasons for the grounding.