Suez Canal remains blocked amid efforts to free stuck vessel

SUEZ, EGYPT (AP) — A giant container ship remained stuck sideways in Egypt’s Suez Canal for the fifth day yesterday, as authorities prepared to make new attempts to free the vessel and reopen a crucial east-west waterway for global shipping.

The Ever Given, a Panama-flagged ship that carries cargo between Asia and Europe, ran aground on Tuesday in the narrow canal that runs between Africa and the Sinai Peninsula.

The massive vessel got stuck in a single-lane stretch of the canal, about six kilometres north of the southern entrance, near the city of Suez.

Ever Given technical manager Bernhard Schulte Shipmanagement said an attempt on Friday to free it failed. Plans were in the works to pump water from interior spaces of the vessel, and two more tugs should arrive by today to join others already trying to move the massive ship, it said.

Shoei Kisen President Yukito Higaki told a news conference at company headquarters in Imabari in western Japan that 10 tugboats were deployed and workers were dredging the banks and sea floor near the vessel’s bow to try to get it afloat again as the high tide starts to go out.

Shoei Kisen said in a statement yesterday the company was considering removing containers to lighten the vessel if refloating efforts fail, but that would be a difficult operation.

Ever Given, a Panama-flagged cargo ship, that is wedged across the Suez Canal and blocking traffic in the vital waterway. PHOTO: AP

The White House said it offered to help Egypt re-open the canal. “We have equipment and capacity that most countries don’t have and we’re seeing what we can do and what help we can be,” United States (US) President Joe Biden told reporters on Friday.

An initial investigation showed the vessel ran aground due to strong winds and ruled out mechanical or engine failure, the company and the canal authority said. GAC, a global shipping and logistics company, previously said the ship experienced a power blackout, but it did not elaborate.

A maritime traffic jam grew to around 280 vessels yesterday outside the Suez Canal, according to canal service provider Leth Agencies.

Some vessels began changing course and dozens of ships were still en route to the waterway, according to the data firm Refinitiv.

A prolonged closure of the crucial waterway would cause delays in the global shipment chain. Some 19,000 vessels passed through the canal last year, according to official figures. About 10 per cent of world trade flows through the canal, which is particularly crucial for transporting oil. The closure could affect oil and gas shipments to Europe from the Middle East.

It remained unclear how long the blockage would last. Even after re-opening the canal that links factories in Asia to consumers in Europe, the waiting containers are likely to arrive at busy ports, forcing them to face additional delays before offloading.

Apparently anticipating long delays, the owners of the stuck vessel diverted a sister ship, the Ever Greet, on a course around Africa instead, according to satellite data.