Attempts to repel megaship blocking Egypt’s Suez Canal fail

An attempt to repatriate a megaship blocking Egypt’s Suez Canal failed on Friday, the ship’s chiefs said, as the crisis forced companies to divert services from key shipping around Africa.

MV Ever given, which is longer than four football pitches, has since Tuesday been squeezed diagonally across the canal and closed the waterway in both directions.

“Another attempt to float the ship earlier today … failed,” Bernhard Schulte Shipmanagement (BSM) in Singapore said in a statement.

The blockade has caused a huge traffic congestion for more than 200 ships at each end of the 193-kilometer-long canal and major delays in the delivery of oil and other products.

Shoei Kisen Kaisha, the Japanese company that owns Ever Given, had earlier on Friday said that crews used tugs and dredges to float the ship.

BSM said “the focus is now on dredging to remove sand and mud around the port side of the ship’s bow”.

It said that Smit Salvage, a Dutch company that has been working on some of the most famous wrecks in recent years, confirmed that there would be “two more tugs” arriving on Sunday to help.

“Arrangements are also being made for high-capacity pumps to reduce the water levels in the ship’s front void and bow thruster space,” BSM added.

It is said that there had been “no reports of contamination or load damage and initial investigations rule out mechanical or engine failure as the cause of grounding”.

‘Human error’?

Crews had been seen working all night with a large dredging machine under headlights.

But the ship with a gross tonnage of 219,000 and a deadweight of 199,000 has not yet grown, forcing the global shipping giant Maersk and Germany’s Hapag-Lloyd to investigate re-flights around the southern tip of Africa.

“With the Suez Canal set to remain blocked for another day or two, shipping companies are forced to confront the ghost to take the far longer route around the Cape of Good Hope to reach Europe or North America’s east coast,” said Lloyd’s List, a freight and news companies.

“The first container ship to do this is Evergreen’s Ever Greet … a sister ship to Ever Given,” it said, adding that the route will take another 12 days.

Egypt’s Suez Canal Authority said the mega-ship veered off course and ran aground when winds of up to 40 knots whipped up a sandstorm that affected visibility.

BSM also said that “initial investigations suggest that the ship grounded due to strong winds”.

Maritime expert Rose George said it was “inevitable that there will be some cost impact” for consumers around the world.

George also doubted the official reason why gusts of wind caused the ship to ground.

“I do not know if this is true, but I know that more than two thirds of maritime accidents are due to human error,” she told AFP in London.

Fear of week-long blockage

Lloyd’s List said data indicated that 213 ships now stopped at each end of the canal, which connects the Mediterranean and the Red Sea.

The blockade held an estimated $ 9.6 billion in cargo every day between Asia and Europe, it is said.

“Rough estimates suggest that westbound traffic is worth about $ 5.1 billion daily, while eastbound traffic is worth $ 4.5 billion,” says Lloyds.

The canal authority has said that between 15,000 and 20,000 cubic meters of sand must be removed to reach a depth of 12-16 meters and float the ship.

If these efforts fail, salvage teams will make sure to unload some of Ever Given’s cargo and take advantage of spring water next week to move the ship.

Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi’s port adviser, Mohab Mamish, who oversaw the recently expanded waterway, told AFP late on Thursday that “shipping will resume within 48-72 hours, maximum”.

However, rescue experts had already warned that the shutdown could last for days or even weeks.

On Friday, Turkey offered to send a tugboat to help Egypt liberate the Panama-flagged ship, as it continued its efforts to repair ties with regional competitors.

Crude prices rose by almost six percent on Wednesday in response to the blockade of the channel.

But they tumbled on Thursday, and at one point the winnings were completely obliterated.

“The oil price corrected surplus profits that accumulated from the Suez Canal blockade because the disruption effect will probably not be for too long,” says Bjornar Tonhaugen from the energy consulting company Rystad.