Stranded Suez Canal Cargo Ship Partially Freed

"The obstruction has held up $9 billion each day in global trade."
DigitalGlobe/ScapeWare3d / Contributor via Getty Images

A massive cargo ship stuck in the Suez Canal was “partially refloated” on Monday, a first step in clearing the heavily trafficked channel that connects the Mediterranean Sea to the Red Sea.

The 1,300-foot ship, called Ever Given, had been stuck for six days, having gotten turned sideways and running aground. Maritime services provider Inchcape said the ship “was successfully re-floated” and said “she is being secured at the moment,” The Associated Press reported.

“The obstruction has held up $9 billion each day in global trade and strained supply chains already burdened by the coronavirus pandemic,” said the AP. “At least 367 vessels, carrying everything from crude oil to cattle, were still waiting to pass through the canal, while dozens more were taking the alternate route around the Cape of Good Hope at Africa’s southern tip, adding some two weeks to journeys and threatening delivery delays.”

The effort to free the ship involved at least 10 tugboats, and engineers waited until a full moon brought a spring tide, raising the canal’s water level. Several dredgers also vacuumed up nearly a million cubic meters of sand and mud around the ship to free it. Posts on social media showed the ship floating and away from the bank.

Another post showed the ship floating, with the air filled by the sounds of tugboats blasting their horns in celebration.

But there may still be much work to do. The ship suffered a damaged hull when it ran aground and it’s not clear how soon it will be able to be repaired and move through the canal. Workers are set to begin offloading some of the ship’s 18,000 containers to lighten the load.

“It wasn’t clear whether the Panama-flagged, Japanese-owned ship, hauling goods from Asia to Europe, would head to its original destination of Rotterdam or if it will need to enter another port for repairs,” said the AP.

Ship operators did not offer a timeline for the reopening of the crucial canal, which carries over 10% of global trade, including 7% of the world’s oil. Over 19,000 ships passed through last year, according to canal authorities. Millions of barrels of oil and liquified natural gas flow through the artery from the Persian Gulf to Europe and North America. Goods made in China — furniture, clothes, supermarket basics — bound for Europe also must go through the canal, or else take a circuitous 5,000 kilometer (3,1000 mile) detour around the southern tip of Africa.

Canal authorities have desperately tried to free the vessel by relying on tugs and dredgers alone, even as analysts warned that 400-meter-long ship, weighing 220,000 tons, may be too heavy for such an operation. As a window for a breakthrough narrows with high tide receding this week, fears have grown that authorities would be forced to lighten the vessel by removing the ship’s 20,000 containers — a complex operation, requiring specialized equipment not found in Egypt, that could take days or weeks.

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