A giant container ship grounded in the Suez Canal could be freed by the start of next week if heavier tugboats, dredging and a high tide succeed in dislodging it, a Dutch firm working to free the vessel said.
The 400-metre (430-yard) long Ever Given became wedged diagonally across a southern section of the canal amid high winds early on Tuesday, disrupting global shipping by blocking one of the world’s busiest waterways.
About 15% of world shipping traffic passes through the canal, and hundreds of vessels are waiting to pass through the waterway once the blockage has been cleared.
Dredgers had removed some 20,000 tonnes of sand from around its bow by Friday, but tugging operations to free the ship were suspended overnight.
They were due to restart early afternoon on Saturday to try to take advantage of the high tide, three sources with knowledge of canal operations said, though they added it could be necessary to remove more sand from around the ship to free it.
“We aim to get it done after the weekend, but everything will have to work out exactly right for that,” Peter Berdowski, chief executive of Boskalis, told Dutch TV programme Nieuwsuur late on Friday.
Boskalis owns Smit Salvage, which was brought in this week to help with efforts by the Suez Canal Authority (SCA) to dislodge the ship.
“The bow is really stuck in the sandy clay, but the stern has not been pushed totally into the clay, which is positive. We can try to use that as leverage to pull it loose,” Berdowski said.
“Heavy tugboats, with a combined capacity of 400 tonnes, will arrive this weekend. We hope that a combination of the tugboats, dredging of sand at the bow and a high tide will enable us to get the ship loose at the beginning of next week.”
Egyptian Prime Minister Mostafa Madbouly on Saturday thanked foreign partners for offers to help refloat the ship and said the SCA’s chairman would brief media shortly on details of the operation to release the ship.
TANKER RATES UP
Shipping rates for oil product tankers nearly doubled after the ship became stranded, and the blockage has scrambled global supply chains, threatening costly delays for companies already dealing with COVID-19 restrictions.
If it drags on, shippers may decide to reroute around the Cape of Good Hope, adding about two weeks to journeys and extra fuel costs.
A total of 288 vessels were waiting to enter or continue their transit through the canal as of Friday, including 65 container ships, 63 bulk carriers and 23 liquefied natural gas (LNG) or liquefied petroleum gas (LPG) carriers, according to a shipping source.
Three shipping agents said on Saturday that none of the ships waiting at the canal’s entrances had yet requested to be rerouted.
Boskalis and Smit Salvage have warned that using too much force to tug the ship could damage it.
Berdowski said a land crane would be brought in at the weekend which could lighten the Ever Given’s load by removing containers, though experts have warned that such a process could be complex and lengthy.
“If we don’t succeed in getting it loose next week, we will have to remove some 600 containers from the bow to reduce the weight,” he said.
“That will set us back days at least, because where to leave all those containers will be quite a puzzle.”