An attempt to refloat a megaship blocking Egypt’s Suez Canal failed Friday, the vessel’s managers said, as the crisis forced companies to re-route services from the vital shipping lane around Africa
The MV Ever Given, which is longer than four football fields, has been wedged diagonally across the entire canal since Tuesday, shutting the waterway in both directions.
“Another attempt to refloat the vessel earlier today… was not successful,” the Singapore-based Bernhard Schulte Shipmanagement (BSM) said in a statement.
The blockage has caused a huge traffic jam for more than 200 ships at either end of the 193-kilometre (120-mile) long canal and major delays in the delivery of oil and other products.
Shoei Kisen Kaisha, the Japanese company that owns the Ever Given, had said earlier Friday that crews were using tugboats and dredgers to refloat the ship.
BSM said “the focus is now on dredging to remove sand and mud from around the port side of the vessel’s bow”.
It said Smit Salvage, a Dutch firm that has worked on some of the most famous wrecks of recent years, confirmed there would be “two additional tugs” arriving by Sunday to assist.
“Arrangements are also being made for high-capacity pumps to reduce the water levels in the forward void space of the vessel and the bow thruster room,” BSM added.
It said there had been “no reports of pollution or cargo damage and initial investigations rule out any mechanical or engine failure as a cause of the grounding”.
Crews had been seen working through the night, using a large dredging machine under floodlights.
But the vessel with gross tonnage of 219,000 and deadweight of 199,000 has yet to budge, forcing global shipping giant Maersk and Germany’s Hapag-Lloyd to look into re-routing around the southern tip of Africa.
“With the Suez Canal set to remain blocked for at least another day or two, shipping companies are being forced to confront the spectre of taking the far longer route around the Cape of Good Hope to get to Europe or the east coast of North America,” said Lloyd’s List, a shipping data and news company.
“The first container ship to do this is Evergreen’s Ever Greet… a sistership to Ever Given,” it said, adding the route takes an additional 12 days.
Egypt’s Suez Canal Authority said the megaship veered off course and ran aground when winds reaching 40 knots whipped up a sandstorm that affected visibility.
BSM also said that “initial investigations suggest the vessel grounded due to strong wind”.
Shipping expert Rose George said it was “inevitable there’s going to be some knock-on cost effect” for consumers around the world.
George also cast doubt on the official reason that gusts of wind caused the ship’s grounding.
“I don’t know if that’s true, but I do know that more than two thirds of marine accidents are due to human error,” she told AFP in London.
Fears of weeks-long blockage
Lloyd’s List said data indicated 213 vessels were now stalled at either end of the canal, which links the Mediterranean and the Red Sea.
The blockage was holding up an estimated $9.6 billion worth of cargo each day between Asia and Europe, it said.
“Rough calculations suggest westbound traffic is worth around $5.1 billion daily while eastbound traffic is worth $4.5 billion,” said Lloyd’s.
The canal authority has said between 15,000 and 20,000 cubic metres of sand would have to be removed in order to reach a depth of 12-16 metres and refloat the ship.
If those efforts fail, salvage teams will look to unload some of the Ever Given’s cargo and take advantage of a spring high tide next week to move the vessel.
Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi’s seaports adviser, Mohab Mamish, who oversaw the recent expansion of the waterway, told AFP late Thursday that “maritime navigation will resume again within 48-72 hours, maximum”.
Salvage experts had already warned the shutdown could last days or even weeks, however.
Turkey on Friday offered to send a tugboat to help Egypt free the Panama-flagged vessel, as it pressed on with its bid to mend ties with regional rivals.
Crude prices jumped by almost six percent Wednesday in response to the canal blockage.
But they tumbled on Thursday, at one point completely wiping out the gains.
“Oil prices corrected excess gains that accumulated from the Suez Canal blockage as the disruption’s effect is likely not one that will last too long,” said Bjornar Tonhaugen of energy consultancy Rystad