Cargo ship still trapped across Suez Canal, Egyptian official says it will be released over the weekend

Cairo – Sea traffic through the The Suez Canal remained blocked on Friday for the fourth consecutive day, with dozens of ships trapped at both the north and south entrance of the shortest route between Asia and Africa. Efforts to dislodge one of the world’s largest cargo ships, trapped sideways across the narrow channel since Tuesday, began to gain momentum, and one of the teams responsible for the operation said it could take weeks , an adviser to the Egyptian president offered a more optimistic response. schedule.

Mohab Mamish, Egyptian President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi’s advisor on seaports and the former chairman of the Suez Canal Authority, told AFP news agency on Thursday that navigation through the canal “will resume within a maximum of 48-72 hours.”

A photo released by Egypt’s Suez Canal Authority on March 25, 2021 shows a tugboat in front of MV Ever Given’s container store, which was across the canal for a third day, blocking all shipping traffic.

Suez Canal Authority

Mamish cited his “experience with several such rescue operations” and said he knew “every inch of the canal.”

The SCA announced earlier this week that all navigation through the channel would be “temporarily” suspended until the colossal Panamanian-flagged container ship MV Ever Given could sail again.

A photo released on March 25, 2021 by Egypt’s Suez Canal Authority shows an excavator in the process of removing sand from the bank of the canal amid attempts to dislodge the MV Ever Given container ship that got stuck and all channel traffic.

Suez Canal Authority

The SCA said on Thursday after meeting with Dutch salvage company SMIT that the operation is helping to move about 15,000 to 20,000 cubic meters of sand, to a depth of 12 to 16 meters along the canal bank, to move the vessel. .

On Wednesday, the SCA allowed 13 ships to enter the north end of the canal, from the Mediterranean, in the hope that the Ever Given would soon run aground and the other cargo ships could continue their journey. But those ships only reached a lake in the middle of the canal, and they may not be going anywhere anytime soon.

Egypt uses at least eight large tugs and digging equipment on the banks of the canal, but so far all attempts to refloat the nearly quarter-mile, 247,000-ton container ship have failed.

The SCA said on Thursday that an “alternative scenario” is being adopted, with ships entering the canal from the north on Wednesday “anchored in the Bitter Lakes waiting area until navigation can fully resume.”

Taiwanese Evergreen Marine Corp, which leases the vessel on behalf of the Japanese company that owns it, hired Dutch firm Smit Salvage and Japan’s Nippon Salvage to work with the ship’s captain and the Suez Canal Authority to find out how – drive it.

Peter Berdowski, CEO of the Dutch company Boskalis that owns Smit Salvage, said on Thursday that it is too early to determine how long the job will take.

“We cannot rule out that it could take weeks, depending on the situation,” Berdowski told the Dutch television program “Nieuwsuur”, according to Reuters. Shipping sources told Reuters that if delays continue, ships could potentially start rerouting around the southernmost tip of Africa, adding thousands of miles and about a week to the voyage.

The Japanese company that owns the Ever Given, Shoei Kisen, told The Associated Press that it was working with local authorities, but “the operation is extremely difficult.”

“We regret having been extremely concerned about the ships traveling or scheduled to travel in the Suez Canal and all related people,” the company said.

According to Reuters, a whopping 30% of global container freight per day crosses the Suez Canal – a journey that takes about six hours – representing about 12% of the total goods traded worldwide.

The news agency quoted industry consultancy Kpler that while the channel only allows the throughput of about 4.4% of the world’s total flow of oil products, a long-term disruption could affect supplies to Asia and Europe, and impact global oil prices seemed inevitable. .

Meanwhile, the incident – and in particular the fact that a single, albeit very large ship disrupted world trade, and a photo of the ship’s hull shading a lone excavator sent to try to dislodge it – has taken a toll. wealth of social media inspired memes. . CBS ‘own “salty” Stephen Colbert even wore a captain’s hat to dissect the maritime disaster on his Wednesday night show.

As the fun continues online, the stress will no doubt continue to increase for both the ship owners, who have to pay the bill for the salvage operation, and the Egyptian canal authority, which has already suffered a drop in revenues from the COVID pandemic. .