The ship the length of four football fields that's wedged across Egypt's Suez Canal is bottlenecking global trade routes for a third day as at least 150 other vessels needing to pass through the crucial waterway are sitting idle, waiting for the obstruction to clear.
The Ever Given, a Panama-flagged ship that carries cargo between Asia and Europe, ran aground 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 have yet to push the container vessel aside — affecting billions of dollars' worth of cargo.
Famed London-based shipping journal Lloyd's List estimates each day the Suez Canal is closed disrupts over $9 billion US worth of goods that should be passing through the waterway.
The vessel remained stuck as of Thursday night local time despite "continuous" efforts to refloat it, according to canal service provider Leth Agencies.
A team from the ship salvaging firm SMIT "spent the day doing inspections and doing calculations to assess the state of the vessel and a plan on how to refloat the vessel," spokesperson Martijn Schuttevaer said, but dredgers, tugboats and even a backhoe failed to free it without success on Thursday.
In a sign of the global turmoil the blockage has caused, the ship's Japanese owner even offered a written apology Thursday for the incident.
"We are determined to keep on working hard to resolve this situation as soon as possible," Shoei Kisen Kaisha Ltd. said. "We would like to apologize to all parties affected by this incident, including the ships travelling and planning to travel through Suez Canal."
Efforts resume to free ship
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. However, satellite photos taken Thursday by Planet Labs Inc. and analyzed by The Associated Press showed the vessel still stuck in the same location.
Vessel tracking software suggests that on top of those already there waiting, more than 200 ships are scheduled to try to access and cross the canal by next week.
Lt.-Gen. Osama Rabei, the head of the canal authority, said navigation through the waterway would remain halted until they refloat the vessel. A team from Boskalis, a Dutch firm specialized in salvaging, arrived at the canal on Thursday, though one of the company's top officials warned removing the vessel could take "days to weeks."
'A very heavy whale'
"It is, in a manner of speaking, a very heavy whale on the beach," Boskalis chairman Peter Berdowski told the Dutch current affairs program on Wednesday night. "The ship, with the weight it now has, can't really be pulled free. You can forget it."
Bernhard Schulte Shipmanagement, the company that manages the Ever Given, said the ship's 25-member crew are safe and accounted for. Shoei Kisen Kaisha said all the crew came from India.
The ship had two pilots from Egypt's canal authority aboard the vessel to guide it when the grounding happened around 7:45 a.m. Tuesday, Bernhard Schulte Shipmanagement said.
Backlog of ships
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 the Ever Given had been overcome by strong winds as it entered the canal, something Egyptian officials earlier said as well. High winds and a sandstorm plagued the area Tuesday, with winds gusting as much as 50 kilometres per hour.
An initial report suggested the ship suffered a power blackout before the incident, something Bernhard Schulte Shipmanagement denied Thursday.
"Initial investigations rule out any mechanical or engine failure as a cause of the grounding," the company said.
In Japan, Chief Cabinet Secretary Katsunobu Kato told reporters Thursday that the Suez Canal is part of a crucial international sea lane, and that the Japanese government was gathering information and working with local authorities.
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 over $63 a barrel Thursday.
"Blocking something like the Suez Canal really sets in motion a number of dominos toppling each other over," said Lars Jensen, chief executive of Denmark-based SeaIntelligence Consulting. "The effect is not only going to be the simple, immediate one with cargo being delayed over the next few weeks, but will actually have repercussions several months down the line for the supply chain."
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