Operation Suez success as monster ship refloated

In this photo released by Suez Canal Authority, the Ever Given, a Panama-flagged cargo ship is accompanied by Suez Canal tugboats as it moves in the Suez Canal. — AP
In this photo released by Suez Canal Authority, the Ever Given, a Panama-flagged cargo ship is accompanied by Suez Canal tugboats as it moves in the Suez Canal. — AP

Intense salvage efforts lasting 7 days free mega ship and 367 ships affected by the blockage


Anjana Sankar


Sandhya D'Mello

Published: Tue 30 Mar 2021, 12:59 AM

Last updated: Tue 30 Mar 2021, 6:13 AM

The colossal container that blocked the Suez Canal for nearly a week was refloated on Monday, resuming maritime trade on one of the busiest waterways in the Red Sea, Suez Canal authorities confirmed.

The 220,000-tonne, mega ship Ever Given — described as tall as the Empire State building — had been wedged across the Suez Canal since Tuesday. After intense dredging and wrenching by salvage boats lasting seven days, the ship finally set sail ending one of the worst maritime trade disasters.

The global shipping industry, already partially punctured by the coronavirus pandemic, heaved a collective sighheaved a collectively sign of relief as traffic resumed on the canal through which 12 per cent of global trade by volume and 10 per cent of the world’s oil passes through.

“The efforts to float the delinquent Panamanian container ship Ever Given are successful,” Lt-Gen Osama Rabie, cChairman of the Suez Canal Authority, said in a statement.

Satellite data from marine Traafic.com showed that the ship was sailing away from the shoreline towards the centre of the canal.

Lt-Gen Rabie said it will require three and a half days to clear the backlog of 367 vessels that are waiting to transit the canal.

“We pulled it off!” said Peter Berdowski, CEO of Boskalis, the salvage firm hired to extract the Ever Given, in a statement. “I am excited to announce that our team of experts, working in close collaboration with the Suez Canal Authority, successfully re-floated the Ever Given, thereby making free passage through the canal possible.”

Helped by the peak of high tide, a flotilla of tugboats managed to wrench the bulbous bow of the Ever Given from the canal’s sandy bank, where it had been firmly lodged since last Tuesday.

Canal authorities said the ship will undergo technical inspection after it is hauled over the canal bank, and towards the Great Bitter Lake, a wide stretch of water halfway between the north and south end of the canal.

Bernhard Schulte Shipmanagement (BSM), the technical managers of the containership, confirmed that the vessel was safely re-floated at approximately 15:00 local time on Monday.

“BSM extends its deepest gratitude to all parties involved in the emergency response, including the Suez Canal Authority, SMIT Salvage and the crew on board, who worked tirelessly to free the vessel and to restore navigability in the Suez Canal,” it added.

The ship has 25-member Indian crew. BSM earlier in a statement said all crew are “safe” and remain in “good health and spirits”.

“All crew are Indian nationals and remain onboard. They are working closely with all parties involved to re-float the vessel.” Abhijeet Sangle, working president of the All-India Seafarers and General Workers Union told the media that the crew members are from states like Tamil Nadu and Andhra Pradesh. “Three are from Mumbai, and some from nNorth India,” he was quoted in Indian media.

Freeing Ever Given

The mammoth ship owned by Shoei Kisen of Japan and operated by Taiwanese transport company Evergreen Marine was en route to Rotterdam, Netherlands, when it ran aground on Tuesday at 7.30am reportedly due to strong winds and a sandstorm. Authorities said an investigation would be needed to determine whether human errors caused the accident.

The trapped ship with its bow and stern stuck in opposite banks of the narrow canal caught global attention and created a buzz on social media with people tweeting about the fate of the ship every single minute.

The containership, one of the world’s largest, created a tailgate of over 300 ships along the 193-km long waterway in Egypt that connects the Mediterranean Sea to the Red Sea.

A crucial and busiest passage for maritime, the canal provides the shortest sea link between Asia and Europe bypassing Africa.

An estimated $10 billion worth of goods —– everything from crude oil to cattle —- remained stranded on both sides of the blockage. What followed was an unprecedented salvage operation that lasted seven days.

BMS said in a statement on Friday that a specialiszed suction-dredger designed to shift 2,000 cubic metres of sand every hour was brought in to remove sand from around the port side of the vessel’s bow.

Tens of thousands of cubic metres of soil were dislodged, as dozens of tugboats relentless tried to pull and dislodge the ship from its precarious position.

“Dredging operations continued throughout the day, and further attempts to re-float the vessel will continue this evening once the tug is safely in position along with the 11 tugs already on site, read the update on BSM’s website. “Additionally, soil experts have attended the site alongside officials from the SCA to advise on continuing recovery efforts. An additional dredger, the THSD Causeway registered in Cyprus, is also en-route to the scene to provide additional dredging capacity. The vessel is anticipated to arrive by 30 March 30, 2021.”

Intense efforts to free the ship did not yield results till Sunday.

Egyptian President Abdel Fatah Al -Sissi had authoriszed the canal authority to prepare to unload the 18,000 containers of cargo on Ever Green so that the megaship can be refloated in case the ongoing effort to dislodge it would have failed, said the Washington Post reported.

Hopes were high on Monday as the vessel could be partially re-floated aided by high tide and tugboats. Finally, with Ever Given floating once again and freeing the Canal, one of the worst maritime crisis that the world has seen lately is almost over.

“I thank every honest Egyptian who took part technically or practically to end the crisis,” EEgyptian President el Sissi tweeted on Monday.

Shipping industry hard hit

Shipping industry sources in the UAE said the blockage of one of the key global maritime commercial arteries greatly impacted trade and shipping around the world.

“KSA, UAE and Kuwait rely on Suez Canal to export their crude to U.S & Europe. Majority of LNG from Qatar for European markets also pass through this route.

As per the latest data available, approximately. five5 million barrels of crude and 3.5 Bcf is transported through this critical passage each day.

Oil prices have been marching northwards on fears that the blockage may persist for weeks,” said M.R. Raghu, cChief eExecutive oOfficer, Marmore Mena Intelligence.

Ranjith Raja, hHead of MENA Oil & Shipping Research at Refinitiv, said: “With the Canal accounting for a daily revenue of almost $16 million, without transits for the past six days, the loss in revenue for the Suez Canal Authority (SCA) and Egypt are in excess of $95 million.

“With the current blockage, the only other alternative for vessels to travel between Asia and Europe will be to go around the Cape of Good Hope (COGH). Ships going around the COGH will now have to factor in the additional 10 days of transit time and the fuel that will be consumed during the voyage. For a large container vessel, super tanker or Capesize bulk carrier, this will be an additional cost in excess of USD$400,000 just in fuel.”

Many shipping companies have already rerouted their ships through the COGH.

Maersk that has 34 vessels in anchorage waiting said in a statement that they have until now 15 redirected 15 vessels around the Cape of Good Hope. “And we are currently recalculating if some of these vessels should turn around and continue on their original route, said Maersk in a statement.

“Even when the canal gets reopened, the ripple effects on global capacity and equipment are significant and the blockage has already triggered a series of further disruptions and backlogs in global shipping that could take weeks, possibly months, to unravel,” it said.


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