More than 300 vessels are logjammed at either end of the Suez Canal on Saturday, though an increasing number of vessels were being diverted to the southern tip of Africa, also known as the Cape of Good Hope.
Lieutenant-General Osama Rabie, Chairman of the Suez Canal Authority (SCA), said at least 14 tugboats and a dredging ship worked around the clock to free the stranded containership ‘Ever Given’.
I’ve got boots on the ground reporting from the Suez Canal – Ever Given is an absolute unit pic.twitter.com/Qv1S4vC0UY
— litquidity (@litcapital) March 26, 2021
Rabie said 9,000 tons of ballast water were removed from the ship. Dredgers had removed some 20,000 tonnes of sand from around its bow by Friday, and the rudder and propeller system of the vessel was restarted.
He said the stern of the vessel started to move last before refloating efforts stopped.
“The bow is really stuck in the sandy clay, but the stern has not been pushed totally into the clay, which is positive. We can try to use that as leverage to pull it loose,” Peter Berdowski, chief executive of Boskalis, which owns Smit Salvage, which was brought in this week to help with efforts, said.
“Heavy tugboats, with a combined capacity of 400 tonnes, will arrive this weekend. We hope that a combination of the tugboats, dredging of sand at the bow and a high tide will enable us to get the ship loose at the beginning of next week.”
The chairman said around 321 ships were waiting to transit the canal as of Saturday.
Many of the vessels stuck in or around the Suez Canal are carrying billions of dollars of goods, such as crude, crude products, automobiles, electronics, livestock, other consumer goods, and other commodities.
Rabie also said wind speeds were not the main reason for stranding the ship on the side of the canal. He said technical or human error could have contributed to the incident.
And the worst-case scenario might play out if the ongoing dredging to refloat the ship assisted with tugboats and high tide doesn’t work, that is, as explained by the chairman, the possibility of lightening the vessel’s load. He hoped the salvage team wouldn’t have to come to that because, as JPMorgan’s Marko Kolanovic told clients Friday, unloading the ship could result in a “ship breaking.”
As Kolanovic puts it, “another interesting development of this week was the blocking of the Suez Canal. While we believe and hope the situation will get resolved shortly, there are some risks of the ship breaking.”
Additionally, Reuters reports that Boskalis and Smit Salvage have warned that using too much force to tug the ship could damage it. Berdowski said a land crane would be brought in at the weekend which could lighten the Ever Given’s load by removing containers, though experts have warned that such a process could be complex and lengthy.
“If we don’t succeed in getting it loose next week, we will have to remove some 600 containers from the bow to reduce the weight,” he said.
“That will set us back days at least, because where to leave all those containers will be quite a puzzle.”
Rabie did not give any timelines on when the vessel would be refloated. He said the stranded ship would need to be surveyed after it was refloated.
There’s still no word on the US Navy’s assessment of the vessel.
The blockage of the world’s most crucial shipping lane has added significant pressure to the already stretched global supply chain.