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Suez Canal: Efforts to free 200,000-ton trapped ship enter third day
25 March 2021, 06:43 | Updated: 25 March 2021, 11:06
A scramble to free a 200,000-ton shipping container which has become wedged across the Suez Canal has entered its third day.
The Ever Given ran aground on Tuesday in the narrow, man-made canal dividing continental Africa from the Sinai Peninsula.
In the time since, efforts to free the ship using dredgers, digging and the aid of high tides are yet to push the container vessel aside, although it has been partially re-floated.
To put into context just how massive the 400m-long Ever Given is, the Shard in London comparably stands at a measly 310m.
Around 12% of the world's trade passes through the waterway, opened in 1869, and figures show around 52 ships a day go through.
Bloomberg estimates the blockage is halting around $9.6 billion worth of shipping traffic.
The massive vessel can hold around 20,000 containers, meaning workers trying to free the stricken ship want to avoid having to offload them over fears it could extend the rescue time by days.
So far, dredgers have tried to clear silt around the massive ship. Tug boats nudged the vessel alongside it, trying to gain momentum. From the shore, at least one backhoe dug into the canal's sandy banks, suggesting the bow of the ship had plowed into it.
Bernhard Schulte Shipmanagement, the company that manages the Ever Given, said the ship's 25-member crew were safe and accounted for.
The ship had two pilots from Egypt's canal authority aboard the vessel to guide it when the grounding happened around 7.45am on Tuesday, the company said.
Canal service provider Leth Agencies said at least 150 ships were waiting for the Ever Given to be cleared, including vessels near Port Said on the Mediterranean Sea, Port Suez on the Red Sea and those already stuck in the canal system on Egypt's Great Bitter Lake.
Cargo ships already behind the Ever Given in the canal will be reversed south back to Port Suez to free the channel, Leth Agencies said. Authorities hope to do the same to the Ever Given when they can free it.
Evergreen Marine Corp, a major Taiwan-based shipping company that operates the ship, said in a statement that the Ever Given had been overcome by strong winds as it entered the canal from the Red Sea. None of its containers had sunk.
Egyptian forecasters said high winds and a sandstorm plagued the area on Tuesday, with winds gusting as high as 30 miles per hour.
An initial report suggested the ship suffered a power blackout before the incident, something Bernhard Schulte Shipmanagement denied on Thursday.
"Initial investigations rule out any mechanical or engine failure as a cause of the grounding," the company said.
Tuesday marked the second major crash involving the Ever Given in recent years.
You know that feeling when you stall at the lights and hold up traffic? This is a bit like that. A big boat is stuck in the Suez Canal and the queue is quite something. https://t.co/UZRiM6K98u pic.twitter.com/hSj4oR9AtP— Jack Stilgoe (@Jackstilgoe) March 23, 2021
In 2019, the cargo ship ran into a small ferry moored on the Elbe River in the German port city of Hamburg. Authorities at the time blamed strong wind for the collision, which severely damaged the ferry.
The closure could affect oil and gas shipments to Europe from the Mideast, which rely on the canal to avoid sailing around Africa. The price of international benchmark Brent crude stood at more than 63 dollars a barrel on Thursday.
The Ever Given, built in 2018 with a length of nearly 400 meters, or a quarter of a mile, and a width of 193 feet, is among the largest cargo ships in the world.
It has departed from China before heading toward Rotterdam in the Netherlands.
Opened in 1869, the Suez Canal provides a crucial link for oil, natural gas and cargo. It also remains one of Egypt's top foreign currency earners.
In 2015, the government of President Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi completed a major expansion of the canal, allowing it to accommodate the world's largest vessels. However, the Ever Given ran aground south of that new portion of the canal.