Thursday 25 March 2021 8:17 am

Suez Canal: Rescue mission to recover 'beached whale' ship could take weeks

Rescue efforts to move a giant container ship that has blocked the Suez Canal since Tuesday could take weeks, the company that is involved with the mission to refloat the vessel has warned.

Read more: Rapid build-up of tankers and laden vessels at blocked Suez Canal as alternatives are limited

At present, traffic along the waterway in Egypt is still blocked in both directions by the 59m-wide cargo ship, which is as tall as the Empire State Building.

Source: Marine Vessel Traffic, Reuters, CNBC

Specialists from Netherlands-based dredging giant Boskalis arrived in Egypt this morning after being called in by authorities.

The company’s chief executive was quick to downplay any expectations that the canal may soon re-open, as he likened the operation to trying to return a beached whale to the water.

“The more secure the ship is, the longer an operation will take,” Boskalis chief Peter Berdowski told Dutch television programme Nieuwsuur.

“It can take days to weeks. [We have to] bring in all the equipment we need, that’s not around the corner.”

Efforts to free the Taiwan-based MV Ever Given using dredgers, digging and the aid of high tides yesterday were not enough to push the container vessel aside.

Although the ship was partially refloated yesterday, the 200,000-tonne mega container ship is still unable to turn around despite several refloating attempts. Strong winds are thought to be to blame for the ship’s grounding, according to its owners.

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So far, dredgers have tried to clear silt around the massive ship. From the shore, at least one excavator dug into the canal’s sandy banks, suggesting the bow of the ship had ploughed into it.

The ship’s Japanese owner, Shoei Kisen Kaisha, offered a written apology on Thursday, saying: “We are determined to keep on working hard to resolve this situation as soon as possible. We would like to apologise to all parties affected by this incident, including the ships travelling and planning to travel through Suez Canal.”

Ever Given, built in 2018 and currently sailing under the flag of Panama, is en route to the port of Rotterdam from the Yantian district in China.

It has so far travelled through Taipei and Malaysia, and was set to arrive in the Netherlands port on 31 March, but has been lodged in the Suez Canal since Tuesday morning.

Source: Vessel Finder

A total of 206 large container ships, tankers carrying oil and gas, and bulk vessels hauling grain have been log jammed at either end of the canal, according to tracking data, creating one of the worst shipping pile-ups seen for years.

Read more: Exclusive: Shipping boss threatened staff with unpaid leave if they worked from home during lockdown

BSM, which handles the ship’s crew and technical issues, said all the crew are safe and accounted for and that there have been no reports of injuries or pollution.

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Taiwan’s Evergreen Marine Corp, which is leasing the vessel under a time charter, said the shipowner has informed it that the ship “was suspected of being hit by a sudden strong wind, causing the hull to deviate from waterway and accidentally hit the bottom and run aground”.

The Suez Canal, built in 1869 to connect the Mediterranean Sea to the Red Sea, serves as the shortest maritime route from Europe to Asia.

Revenue dipped three per cent during the pandemic last year to $5.61bn, with Egypt’s President Abdel Fattah El-Sisi vowing a major overhaul of the centuries-old shipping route.

The Egyptian government in 2015 completed an $8bn expansion of the canal aimed at slashing wait times and luring more ships.

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Roughly 30 per cent of the world’s shipping container volume transits through the Suez Canal each day, accounting for about 12 per cent of all global trade.

“Every port in Western Europe is going to feel this,” Leon Willems, a spokesman for Rotterdam Port, where the Ever Given ship is headed. “We hope for both companies and consumers that it will be resolved soon.”

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