Optimism but concern as ship stuck in Suez

Salvage efforts would free a mammoth container ship blocking the Suez Canal for six days, crippling international trade and causing multi-million-dollar losses.

Hope rose on Sunday that salvage efforts would free a mammoth container ship blocking the Suez Canal for six days, crippling international trade and causing multi-million-dollar losses.

The MarineTraffic and VesselFinder applications said two tugboats were heading to the vital waterway to bolster the salvage operation, while experts pinned hope on a high tide to help refloat the vessel.

The Italian-flagged Carlo Magno and the Dutch-flagged Alp Guard were in the Red Sea en route to join over 10 other tugboats deployed in the Suez Canal, the ship-tracking websites said.

The MV Ever Given, which is longer than four football fields, has been wedged diagonally across the span of the canal since Tuesday, blocking the waterway in both directions.

The crisis has forced companies to reconsider re-routing vessels around Africa’s Cape of Good Hope, a longer and more expensive way to travel between Asia and Europe.

Billions of dollars-worth of cargo is now stalled at either end of the Suez Canal and each passing day results in millions of dollars in losses for Egypt and commercial enterprises around the world.

Several notes of optimism were struck on Saturday, including from Suez Canal Authority chief Osama Rabie, who told reporters the megaship could be afloat by last night.

“We could finish today or tomorrow (Sunday), depending on the ship’s responsiveness to high tides,” he said.

Rabie later told an Egyptian news channel the ship “moved 30 degrees from left and right” for the first time late on Saturday. “It is a good sign,” he said, adding that 14 tugboats were deployed around the stricken vessel and salvage crews were working round the clock.

Salvage teams pressed efforts to remove sand around the ship, with 27,000 cubic meters cleared so far at a depth of 18 meters, SCA spokesman George Safwat said on Sunday.

Next high tide

A high tide was expected to start last night.

“If they don’t manage to dislodge it during that high tide, the next high tide is not there for another couple of weeks, and that becomes problematic,” Plamen Natzkoff, an expert at VesselsValue, has said.

Despite some predictions that the megaship could be refloated soon, Lloyd’s List, a shipping data and news firm, said yesterday there was a “surge” in the number of vessels opting to go around Africa. “Most major container lines are now diverting ships round Cape of Good Hope and warning of supply chain disruption ahead,” it said on Twitter.

French shipping giant CMA-CGM said yesterday two of its Asia-bound vessels would be re-routed around the Cape of Good Hope, and that it was considering air or rail transport for some clients.

A study published on Friday by German insurer Allianz said the blockage could cost global trade US$6-10 billion a day, shaving off some 0.2 to 0.4 percentage points of annual trade growth each week.

The 400-meter long, 200,000-ton MV Ever Given, veered off course in the Suez Canal on Tuesday, with officials blaming 40-knots gusts and a sandstorm for the accident.

But Rabie on Saturday said “technical or human errors” could be behind the grounding of the Taiwan-run, Panama-flagged container ship near the southern end of the canal.

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