Plan made to refloat ship blocking Suez Canal using tide
SUEZ, Egypt (AP) — The company that owns the giant container ship stuck sideways across the Suez Canal said an attempt will be made to refloat the vessel by taking advantage of tidal movements later Saturday.
The Ever Given, owned by Japanese firm Shoei Kisen KK, got wedged Tuesday in a single-lane stretch of the canal, about 6 kilometers (3.7 miles) north of the southern entrance, near the city of Suez.
At a news conference Friday night at company headquarters in Imabari, western Japan, Shoei Kisen President Yukito Higaki said 10 tugboats were deployed and workers were dredging the banks and sea floor near the vessel’s bow to try to get it afloat again as the high tide starts to go out.
“We apologize for blocking the traffic and causing the tremendous trouble and worry to many people, including the involved parties,” he said.
Shoei Kisen said in a statement Saturday that the company has considered removing its containers to get the weight off the vessel, but it is a very difficult operation, physically speaking. The company said it may still consider that option if the ongoing refloating efforts fail.
A team from Boskalis, a Dutch firm specializing in salvaging, was working with the canal authority using tugboats and a specialized suction dredger at the port side of the cargo ship’s bow. Egyptian authorities have prohibited media access to the site.
“It’s a complex technical operation” that will require several attempts to free the vessel, Lt. Gen. Osama Rabei, head of the Suez Canal Authority, said in a statement.
Attempts earlier Friday to free it failed, said Bernhard Schulte Shipmanagement, the technical manager of the Ever Given.
The Suez Canal Authority has said it welcomed international assistance. The White House said it has offered to help Egypt reopen the canal. “We have equipment and capacity that most countries don’t have and we’re seeing what we can do and what help we can be,” U.S. President Joe Biden told reporters.
An initial investigation showed the vessel ran aground due to strong winds and ruled out mechanical or engine failure, the company said. GAC, a global shipping and logistics company, had previously said the ship had experienced a power blackout, but it did not elaborate.
Bernhard Schulte said two canal pilots had been aboard when the ship got stuck. Such an arrangement is customary, but the ship’s captain retains ultimate authority over the vessel, according to experts.
A maritime traffic jam grew to more than 200 vessels Friday outside the Suez Canal and some vessels began changing course. More than 100 ships were still en route to the waterway, according to the data firm Refinitiv.
Apparently anticipating long delays, the owners of the stuck vessel diverted a sister ship, the Ever Greet, to head around Africa instead, according to satellite data.
Others also are being diverted. The liquid natural gas carrier Pan Americas changed course in the mid-Atlantic, now aiming south to go around the southern tip of Africa, according to satellite data from MarineTraffic.com.
About 10% of world trade flows through the canal, which is particularly crucial for transporting oil. The closure also could affect oil and gas shipments to Europe from the Middle East.
Oil markets are absorbing the disruption for now, analyst Toril Bosoni said.
“Oil inventories have been coming down but they are still relatively ample,” she told The Associated Press, adding that she believes the impact might be more pronounced in the tanker sector than in the oil industry.
“We are not losing any oil supply but it will tie up tankers for longer if they have to go around” the tip of Africa, she said, which is roughly an additional two-week trip.
At the White House, press secretary Jen Psaki said the U.S. does see “some potential impacts on energy markets from the role of the Suez Canal as a key bidirectional transit route for oil. ... We’re going to continue to monitor market conditions and we’ll respond appropriately if necessary, but it is something we’re watching closely.”
International companies are preparing for the effect that the canal’s blockage will have on supply chains that rely on precise deliveries of goods. Singapore’s Minister of Transport Ong Ye Kung said the country’s port should expect disruptions.
“Should that happen, some draw down on inventories will become necessary,” he said on Facebook.
The backlog of vessels could stress European ports and the international supply of containers, already strained by the coronavirus pandemic, according to IHS Markit, a business research group. It said 49 container ships were scheduled to pass through the canal in the week since the Ever Given became lodged.
The delay could also result in huge insurance claims by companies, according to Marcus Baker, global head of Marine & Cargo at the insurance broker Marsh, with a ship like the Ever Given usually covered at between $100 million to $200 million.
Capt. Nick Sloane, a maritime salvage expert who led the high-profile effort to salvage the cruise ship Costa Concordia in 2012 told The Associated Press that freeing the cargo ship could take up to a week in the best-case scenario and warned of possible structural problems on the vessel as it remains wedged. That’s if dredging works. If it doesn’t, he estimated that an operation that involved removing the ship’s cargo could take weeks, as it would require 300 barges to carry the ships some 20,000 containers.
Satellite and photos distributed by the canal authority show Ever Given’s bow touching the eastern wall, while its stern appeared lodged against the western wall.
The Ever Given was involved in an accident in northern Germany in 2019, when it ran into a small ferry moored on the Elbe River in Hamburg. No passengers were on the ferry at the time and there were no injuries, but it was seriously damaged.
Hamburg prosecutors opened an investigation of the Ever Given’s captain and pilot on suspicion of endangering shipping traffic, but shelved it in 2020 for lack of evidence, spokeswoman Liddy Oechtering told The Associated Press.
Oechtering also could not say what the investigation had determined the cause of the crash was, but officials at the time suggested that strong winds may have blown the slow moving cargo ship into the ferry.
Associated Press writers David Rising in Berlin, Pan Pylas in London, Nancy Benac in Washington, Jeffrey Schaeffer in Paris and Mari Yamaguchi in Tokyo contributed.
The pronoun used for Toril Bosoni has been corrected.