‘Don’t rejoice too soon,’ officials warn as Suez Canal boat is partly battered from shore
By ISABEL DEBRE and SAMY MAGDY, The Associated Press
SUEZ, Egypt (AP) – Engineers “partially refloated” on Monday the colossal container ship that continues to block traffic on the Suez Canal, authorities said, without providing further details on when the vessel would be released .
Satellite data from MarineTraffic.com showed that the vessel’s bulbous bow, once lodged deep in the east side of the canal, had been partially torn from the shore – although it got stuck at the edge of the canal. The ship’s stern had tilted and was now in the middle of the waterway, according to tracking data.
Although the development marked the vessel’s largest movement since it was stranded last week, the rescue crew urged caution as obstacles loomed.
“Don’t rejoice too soon,” Peter Berdowski, CEO of Boskalis, the rescue company hired to extract Ever Given, told NPO Radio 1.
Last Tuesday, the Ever Given skyscraper got stuck on its side in the crucial waterway, creating a massive traffic jam. The obstruction has blocked $ 9 billion every day in global trade and strained supply chains already weighed down by the coronavirus pandemic. At least 367 ships, carrying everything from crude oil to livestock, were still waiting to pass through the canal, while dozens took the alternate route around the Cape of Good Hope to the southern tip of Africa – a detour that adds about two weeks to travel and ships cost hundreds of thousands of dollars in fuel and other costs.
With the cessation of transits on the canals, Egypt has already lost more than $ 95 million in revenue, according to data company Refinitiv. If the ship is released in the next few days, clearing the backlog of ships waiting to cross the canal would take at least 10 days, Refinitiv added.
The partial release of the vessel came after intensive efforts to push and pull the vessel with 10 tugs when the full moon brought in the spring tide, canal service company Leth Agencies said, raising the water level of the channel and hoping for a breakthrough. Videos widely shared on social media showed tugs in the canal sounding horns to celebrate the fact that Ever Given had been partly ripped from shore.
Egyptian President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi made his first comment on the ship while the rescue work was underway, writing on Facebook that “the Egyptians have managed to end the crisis” of the stranded ship despite “the enormous technical complexity ”of the operation.
However, the rescue team said the bow of the ship got stuck in the sandy clay by the canal.
“The good news is that the stern is free, but we saw this as the easiest part of the job,” Berdowski said, noting that the most difficult challenge remained at the bow of the ship, where the workers should have had to. struggling to transport the 220,000 fully loaded people. one-ton ship on the clay of the canal bank.
An official from Shoei Kisen Kaisha Ltd., the company that owns the Ever Given, confirmed that the bow of the ship had shifted slightly, but warned that the bottom of the ship was still touching the seabed. The official spoke on condition of anonymity due to the sensitivity of the matter.
On Monday morning, an Associated Press reporter could see that the ship’s position had changed markedly – where previously only the stern of the ship was visible, the side of the ship could now be seen.
Lt. Gen. Osama Rabei, head of the Suez Canal Authority, said the ship responded well to “pull and push maneuvers” early Monday. He said workers had straightened the vessel’s position by 80% and the stern had moved 102 meters (334 feet) away from the shore of the canal.
The price of international benchmark Brent crude fell about 2% to just over $ 63 on the news.
When high tide returns at 11:30 a.m. local time on Monday, rescue teams will resume their attempts to tow the vessel down the middle of the waterway and toward Great Amer Lake, a large body of water midway between the north and south end of the canal, where it will undergo a technical review, Rabei said.
During the night, several dredgers had worked hard to suck 27,000 cubic meters of sand and mud from around the ship. Another powerful tug, the Italian-flagged Carlo Magno, arrived at the scene to join the work on Monday, and the flotilla would now focus their efforts on the bow of the ship, Berdowski said.
Although the ship is vulnerable to damage in its current position, the shipowner dismissed concerns on Monday, saying the ship’s engine was functional and would head north when released. It has not been decided whether the Japanese vessel, flying the Panamanian flag, carrying goods from Asia to Europe, will continue to its original destination, Rotterdam, or whether it will have to enter another port for repairs. , said the official of Shoei.
Ship operators have not offered a timetable for reopening the crucial canal, which carries more than 10% of world trade, including 7% of world oil. More than 19,000 ships passed last year, according to the canal authorities. Millions of barrels of oil and liquefied natural gas flow through the Persian Gulf artery to Europe and North America. Products made in China – furniture, clothing, supermarket basics – destined for Europe must also pass through the canal, or make the detour via Africa.
The unprecedented shutdown threatened to disrupt oil and gas shipments to Europe from the Middle East and raised fears of prolonged delays, good shortages and increased costs for consumers.
Canal authorities have desperately tried to free the ship relying solely on tugs and dredges, even as analysts have warned that a 400-meter-long vessel may be too heavy for such an operation. As the window for a breakthrough narrows with the high tide receding this week, fears have grown that authorities will be forced to lighten the ship by removing the ship’s 20,000 containers – a complex operation, requiring specialized equipment. not found in Egypt, which could take days or weeks.
The rescue team’s next step is to dredge under the bow of the ship with high-pressure jets of water to pull the ship from the clay, Berdowski said.
“If that doesn’t work, you will ultimately have to remove weight and that can only happen by removing the containers from the front,” he added. “But it’s a process that will take time.”
DeBre reported from Dubai, United Arab Emirates. Associated Press editors Mike Corder in The Hague, Netherlands; Mari Yamaguchi in Tokyo and Jon Gambrell in Dubai, United Arab Emirates contributed to this report.