Ship traffic through the Suez Canal has slowly resumed after salvage teams managed to move the 200,000-tonne container ship that had blocked all passage through the crucial waterway for nearly a week.
Helped by the peak of high tide, a flotilla of tugboats managed to wrench the bow of the skyscraper-sized Ever Given from the sandy bank of the canal, where it has been lodged since last Tuesday.
"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 refloated the Ever Given, thereby making free passage through the Suez Canal possible again."
Flanked by tugboats, the ship made its way cautiously to the Great Bitter Lake, a wide stretch of water halfway between the north and south end of the canal, where it was undergoing a technical examination to see if it was damaged and whether or not it is safe to proceed to its original destination of Rotterdam.
Billions of dollars worth of goods delayed
About $9 billion US ($11.3 billion Cdn) worth of goods normally pass through the canal every day, and the backlog of ships numbered nearly 400 when Ever Given was finally moved on Monday.
Dozens more had already left the canal's entrance and are making their way along the lengthy alternate route around the Cape of Good Hope at Africa's southern tip — a detour that costs ships hundreds of thousands of dollars in fuel and other costs.
With canal transits stopped, Egypt already has lost over $95 million in revenue, according to the data firm Refinitiv. If the ship is freed in the next few days, clearing the backlog of ships waiting to pass through the canal would take over 10 days, Refinitiv said.
Even before the ship was fully freed, Egyptian President Abdel Fattah el-Sissi portrayed the development as a victory in his first comments on the stranded vessel.
"Egyptians have succeeded in ending the crisis," he wrote on Facebook.
In the village of Amer, which overlooks the canal, residents cheered as the vessel moved along. Many scrambled to get a closer look while others mockingly waved goodbye to the departing ship from their fields of clover
"Mission accomplished," one villager Abdalla Ramadan said. "The whole world is relieved."
The price of international benchmark Brent crude dropped some two per cent to just over $63 US on the news.
The unprecedented shutdown has threatened to disrupt oil and gas shipments to Europe from the Middle East and raised fears of extended delays, goods shortages and rising costs for consumers.
It has also prompted new questions about the shipping industry, an on-demand supplier for a world now under pressure from the coronavirus pandemic.
"We've gone to this fragile, just-in-time shipping that we saw absolutely break down in the beginning of COVID," said Capt. John Konrad, the founder and CEO of the shipping news website gcaptain.com. "We used to have big, fat warehouses in all the countries where the factories pulled supplies — Now these floating ships are the warehouse."
Although the exact cause of the grounding are still unknown, the Ever Given lost power in the middle of a sandstorm last Monday, while it was about six kilometres north of the entrance to the canal. It rammed into the eastern bank of the canal, while the stern of the ship drifted west and also got stuck in the sand.
Dredgers, tugs and other equipment had very little luck in moving the colossal ship bearing 20,000 truck-sized shipping containers, until high tide on Monday proved to be the boost that rescue teams needed.
As a window for a breakthrough narrows with high tide receding this week, fears have grown that authorities would be forced to lighten the vessel by removing the ship's 20,000 containers — a complex operation requiring specialized equipment not found in Egypt that could take days or weeks.
With files from The Associated Press
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