UPDATED – Ever Given container ship stuck in Suez re-floated

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The stranded container ship blocking the Suez Canal for almost a week was re-floated on Monday and is currently being secured, Inchcape Shipping Services said, raising expectations the vital waterway will soon be reopened.

The ship was successfully re-floated at 4.30 am local time and was being secured at the moment, Inchcape, a global provider of marine services said on Twitter.

Ship-tracking service VesselFinder has changed the ship’s status to under way on its website.

A video posted on Facebook early on Monday appeared to show the stern of the container ship that had been stuck in the Suez Canal swung towards the canal bank, opening space in the channel.

The video showed tug boats moving around the Ever Given container ship and voices could be heard shouting in celebration.

Earlier Suez Canal salvage teams intensified excavation and dredging on Sunday around a massive container ship blocking the busy waterway ahead of attempts to refloat it, with two sources saying work had been complicated by rock under the ship’s bow.

Diggers were working to remove parts of the canal’s bank and expand dredging close to the ship’s bow to a depth of 18 metres (19.7 yards), the Suez Canal Authority (SCA) said in a statement.

A handout satellite image made available by MAXAR Technologies shows excavation around the bow of the ‘Ever Given’ and dredging operations in progress, in the Suez Canal, Egypt, 28 March 2021. The large container ship Ever Given ran aground in the Suez Canal on 23 March, blocking passage of other ships and causing a traffic jam for cargo vessels. EPA-EFE/MAXAR TECHNOLOGIES

A specialist tug registered in the Netherlands arrived and would join efforts to refloat the ship on Sunday evening, the ship’s technical manager Bernhard Schulte Shipmanagement (BSM) said.

Egypt’s President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi has ordered preparations for the possible removal of some of the ship’s 18,300 containers, SCA Chairman Osama Rabie told Egypt’s Extra News.

Any operation to lighten the ship’s load would not start before Monday, an SCA source said, as salvage teams try to manoeuvre the ship free before high tides recede next week.

The 400-metre (430-yard) long Ever Given became jammed diagonally across a southern section of the canal in high winds early on Tuesday, halting shipping traffic on the shortest shipping route between Europe and Asia.

At least 369 vessels are waiting to transit the canal, Rabie said, including dozens of container ships, bulk carriers, oil tankers and liquefied natural gas (LNG) or liquefied petroleum gas (LPG) vessels.

Shippers affected by the blockage may be offered discounts, Rabie said, adding that he believed investigations would show the canal was not responsible for grounding the Ever Given, one of the world’s biggest container ships.

Rescue workers from the SCA and a team from Dutch firm Smit Salvage have been weighing how much tugging power they can use on the ship without risking damage, and whether some cargo will need to be removed by crane in order to re-float it.

Experts have warned that such a process could be complex and lengthy. Rabie said he hoped it would not be necessary, but that Egypt would take up offers of international assistance if it did switch to that strategy.

A ballast tank at the bow of the ship has been damaged, and the vessel will have to be inspected once it is freed, two people familiar with the salvage operation said.

Suction pumps have been deployed to expel water from the tank, SCA sources said, and one of the sources said divers had been working to repair the hole.

SOIL EXPERTS

Dredging has so far shifted at least 27,000 cubic metres of sand and mud from around the ship, the SCA said earlier on Sunday.

However, two SCA sources told Reuters that a mass of rock had been found at the bow of the ship, complicating salvage efforts. That appeared to be confirmed by the focus late on Sunday on digging to remove the lining of the canal around the ship’s front.

Soil experts are on site to advise on recovery efforts and a further dredger was expected to arrive by March 30, BSM said.

From the dredging done so far it was still unclear whether the ship was stuck on soft sand, compact sand or clay, which will determine how easily it may shift free, said one official involved in the salvage operation.

Two new and powerful tugs expected to be in use by Monday could provide a boost. “We believe that is what you are going to need in terms of horse power … to have a decent attempt, a decent chance of trying to float her,” the official said.

The latest efforts come after officials said some progress had been made on Friday and Saturday.

“The rudder was not moving and it is now moving, the propeller is working now, there was no water underneath the bow, and now there is water under it, and yesterday there was a 4-metre deviation in the bow and the stern,” Rabie told Egyptian state TV.

About 15% of world shipping traffic transits the Suez Canal, which is a key source of foreign currency revenue for Egypt. The current stoppage is costing the canal $14-15 million daily.

Shipping rates for oil product tankers nearly doubled after the ship became stranded, and the blockage has disrupted global supply chains, threatening costly delays for companies already dealing with COVID-19 restrictions.

If the blockage drags on, shippers may decide to reroute their cargoes around the Cape of Good Hope, adding about two weeks to journeys and extra fuel costs.

A note from A.P. Moeller Maersk seen by Reuters said it had so far redirected 15 vessels around the Cape after calculating that the journey would be equal to the current delay of sailing to Suez and queuing.

The SCA has said it can accelerate convoys through the canal once the Ever Given is freed.

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