Unconfirmed reports suggested that a boxship blocking the Suez Canal may have been freed Monday morning after salvage crews and dredgers worked through the night.
On Sunday, Egypt’s President Abdel Fattah al Sisi ordered the unloading of one of the biggest container vessels in the world if salvage operations failed, with about 370 ships waiting to get through, a holdup that is costing the country’s economy about $13-14 mln daily.
The Japanese-owned and Panama-flag ‘Ever Given’ had been blocking the entire width of the Suez Canal since Tuesday when it ran aground due to heavy winds while transiting northbound headed for Rotterdam. It is costing the global economy an estimated $400 mln per hour, with some ships opting to take a 15,000-mile detour around Africa.
At least 369 ships are waiting to transit the Suez Canal including dozens of container ships, bulk carriers, oil tankers and liquefied natural gas (LNG) or liquefied petroleum gas (LPG) vessels, which is also impacting world crude prices.
The AFP reported that Richard Meade, an editor at Lloyd’s List, said sources close to the salvage operation had voiced optimism “that the vessel could be moved within the next 24-48 hours.”
Suez Canal Authority (SCA) Chairman Lieutenant General Osama Rabie said that the ship’s rudder has moved 30 degrees in each direction. He expected that the cargo would be moved by Sunday evening, but the director of the Dutch company leading the re-floatation process expected the ship to be released by Monday if the tide continues.
Egypt’s Daily News reported that salvage teams were hoping that a higher-than-usual tide would help dislodge the mammoth vessel.
High tide might help
“Efforts aimed to utilise Sunday’s full moon high tides to dislodge the ship. The full moon offers a spring tide, or king tide, in which high tides are higher and the low tides are lower due to the effects of gravity during a straight-line alignment of the Earth, moon and the sun,” the Daily News said.
The Italian-flagged tugboat Carlo Magno and the Dutch-flagged Alp Guard were on their way to the Suez Canal to help the salvage operation.
SCA’s Rabie said that the results of the dredging work by “Mashhour”, one of the authority’s dredgers, have so far reached 27,000 cu.m. of sand, at a depth of 18 metres. He pointed out that the ship had moved four metres by Sunday.
He added that the dredging work continued to remove the sand surrounding the bow of the vessel all night to facilitate the floatation process. This comes alongside pulling manoeuvres by the authority’s tugs at times commensurate with the tide and the direction of the winds.
Rabie noted that the high winds played a relative role in the ship’s stranding, indicating that the investigations are not exclude the possibility of human or technical error.
He said that the SCA’s daily losses were about $13-14 mln, adding that shippers affected by the blockage may be offered discounts by the Suez Canal Authority.
The Ever Given is owned by Shoei Kisen Kaisha (SKK), operated by container transport and shipping company Evergreen Marine and managed by the German ship management company Bernhard Schulte Shipmanagement (BSM).
On Sunday, the Limassol-based ship management company said, “BSM is continuing to work closely with Smit Salvage and the Suez Canal Authority as they coordinate efforts to re-float the vessel.
“The ALP Guard, a specialist tug registered in the Netherlands, has arrived on scene to assist in the ongoing re-floating operations.
“Dredging operations continued throughout the day, and further attempts to re-float the vessel will continue once the tug is safely in position along with the 11 tugs already on site.
“An additional dredger, the THSD Causeway registered in Cyprus, is also en-route to the scene to provide additional dredging capacity. The vessel is anticipated to arrive by Tuesday.
“Once re-floated, the vessel will undergo a full inspection and BSM will cooperate fully with the authorities in any investigations.”
No pollution, Indian crew safe
Earlier, BSM said there had been no reports of pollution or cargo damage and initial investigations ruled out any mechanical or engine failure as a cause of the grounding.
“A crew of 25 Indian nationals remain aboard the vessel. They are safe, in good health, and working closely with all parties involved to re-float the vessel.”
Cyprus Employers’ Federation (OEB) Director General Michalis Antoniou said that 12 Cyprus-flag ships were among those affected by the blockage in the Sue Canal.
Deputy Shipping Minister Vassilis Demetriades added that nine vessels were bound from Europe to Africa and three in the opposite direction, and some delays are anticipated in their schedules.
“We don’t expect a significant impact on the Cyprus economy. There may be some delay in some ships approaching Cyprus ports,” he said.
Meanwhile, Egypt’s General Organisation for Veterinary Services sent three teams to the container ships currently waiting in transit at the Suez Canal to save animals on board.
Russian and German diplomats in Cairo also offered to help end the crisis, with an estimated 20% of Germany’s exports and imports transported through the Suez Canal.
Moody’s said that it does not expect a significant disruption to Egypt’s B2 stable balance of payments from a sovereign perspective, as a result of the Suez Canal blockage.
The rating agency added that Suez Canal receipts amounted to 2% of Egypt’s GDP prior to the COVID-19 pandemic.
“While declining to 1.3% of GDP during the pandemic, a temporary disruption won’t materially change our expectation of a return to pre-crisis canal receipts as global trade recovers,” Moody’s said.