It took nearly six days of herculean efforts, a full moon and an unusual high tide to unblock the marooned ss Ever Given. In less than a week the impact on trade between Asia and Europe was significant. Nearly 400 vessels containing virtually every type of cargo, including livestock, used for human consumption were literally dead in the water.
Excerpted from New York Times 3.29.2021
ISMAILIA, Egypt—The vast container ship that blocked the Suez Canal for six days was freed and began moving north to an anchor point Monday, opening the critical waterway, as hopes grew that global supply delays will ease.
Egyptian President Abdel Fattah Al Sisi cast the operation as a national triumph in remarks he posted to Twitter earlier Monday.
“Today, Egyptians have proven that they are always responsible, and that the canal their ancestors died for, and which their fathers defended with their lives, bears witness to how Egyptians always decide their fate according to their will,” he said.
Engineers raced throughout the day to finish the job of dislodging the Ever Given after partially refloating the ship at dawn, taking advantage of an unusually high tide to make the job easier.
Tugboats helped pull the vessel out from the side of the canal where it had been stuck, before straightening its heading. Egyptian television images showed tugboats blaring their horns, as they towed the Ever Given to safety. Once stabilized it was towed toward an anchor point at a lake further up the canal system, enabling ships already in the canal network to travel.
In the evening, Osama Rabie, chairman of the Ismailia-based Suez Canal Authority, which runs the 120-mile shipping route, said it had been opened to hundreds of vessels that had been waiting to traverse.
Canal managers were giving priority to vessels carrying livestock because they were running out of animal feed, according to a person involved in the operation.
Mr. Rabie said that clearing the backlog would take roughly three days, though some shipping industry veterans suggested it could be longer.
Still, shipping firms, shipowners and management companies are girding for weeks of delays that could ripple far beyond European and Asian ports, which send the most goods through the canal.
Shipping companies say it could take several days to clear the queue of ships now waiting to pass through, while many big lines have already rerouted vessels, in some cases around the southern tip of Africa, adding two weeks of sailing time and tens of thousands of dollars in cost per vessel.
To help remove the backlog of vessels in the Red Sea and the Mediterranean, the Suez Canal Authority is expected to try to increase the number of ships moving through the waterway. In normal circumstances, the daily maximum is 106, according to the World Shipping Council, a shipping trade body.
Many shipowners had already decided to reroute down the coast of Africa to the Cape of Good Hope, adding weeks to the journey and increasing fuel costs. Salvagers originally worried that freeing the ship could take weeks, as it would need to be lightened by taking off fuel and ballast water and possibly removing its roughly 20,000 containers with helicopters.