Date: Monday, March 29th 2021
Source: The Wall Street Journal
CAIRO—The vast container ship that was blocking the Suez Canal for six days has now been freed and is moving north to an anchor point, paving the way to open the critical waterway and end days of global supply delays.
Engineers raced throughout Monday to finish the job of freeing 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. It slowly began to move, with the objective of later reaching an anchor point at a lake further up the canal system. It is as yet unclear when the waterway will be reopened to traffic.
Egyptian television images showed tugboats blaring their horns as they towed the Ever Given while Osama Rabie, chairman of the Suez Canal Authority, which runs the channel, announced it had been successfully freed.
“Ship transits will likely resume today,” said another person involved in the operation. “We are looking at giving priority to livestock vessels because they are running out of supplies for the animals.”
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.
A person involved in the effort said a large rock formation in the side of the canal that had been wedging the bow in place was broken up, helping to break the Ever Given free. Hundreds of cubic feet of sand were removed over the course of the effort.
A video taken near the scene appeared to show workers cheering “Allahu akbar,” or God is the greatest, as the ship began to break free at dawn.
Over 360 vessels are waiting to pass through the canal, blocked since the Ever Given veered into its east side during stormy weather last Tuesday. Some of the ships caught behind in the canal were alerted that they could soon be moving.
“There is a lot of talk on the radio that we will start moving today and we should get ready,” said Angelino Cruz, a radio operator aboard a European-operated crude tanker, which is in line behind the Ever Given.
Moving the ship to an anchor point would relieve the growing strain on the global shipping industry and transit of oil, gas and consumer goods between Asia and Europe. Some 13% of global maritime trade and 10% of seaborne oil shipments transit through the canal.
Reopening the Suez will also ease pressure on Mr. Sisi, who in 2015 inaugurated an expanded canal meant to increase government revenue and help turn the page on the upheavals of the Arab Spring and the army takeover that brought him to power. No revenue boom has materialized, testing his rule.
Those involved in the rescue effort had predicted that the process could take several days as dredgers worked to remove hundreds of thousands of cubic feet of sand around the ship’s bow. Salvagers made significant progress late Friday after freeing the rudder and turning on the ship’s engines, people familiar with the operation said. Efforts continued throughout the weekend, with officials saying that they were quietly optimistic, in part because of higher spring tides accompanying the full moon that began on Sunday.
While European and Asian companies bore the brunt of the closure’s impact, it also threatened knock-on delays and costs to U.S. importers and exporters. The White House had offered unspecified assistance to clear the waterway.
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.
Early Friday, the Ever Greet—a sister ship to the Ever Given—was steered toward the Cape of Good Hope route, according to MarineTraffic, a shipping tracker. The vessel was sailing from China to Rotterdam in the Netherlands. Shipping giant A.P. Moeller-Maersk A/S said 22 of its ships have been affected by the blocked canal, including two that rerouted to the Cape of Good Hope.
Analysts have said a flood of ships moving through the canal could congest European ports such as Rotterdam and Antwerp, lengthening waiting times to unload cargo at their destinations.
Once the canal is free, the focus will turn to how the calamity happened and who should be held responsible. The answer could have major repercussions on insurance claims by the multiple parties involved. Navigation experts and engineers at the canal authority are investigating, joined by the ship’s owner, Japan’s Shoei Kisen Kaisha Ltd., and claims adjusters for international insurance.
People involved in the investigation, still in its initial stages, have said it is focusing on a sandstorm and a roughly two-minute burst of wind that likely threw the vessel inexorably off course.
The blockage posed arguably the biggest international crisis of the seven-year rule of Mr. Sisi, who made the $8.5 billion canal expansion the centerpiece of an economic overhaul. But the changes didn’t boost state revenues, and the Ever Given threatened to further disrupt canal income. Last year’s $5.6 billion in revenue represented less than 2% of Egypt’s total economic output, but the canal is an important source of foreign currency for a country with a large trade deficit.