Efforts to unblock the Suez Canal in Egypt continued Thursday after a cargo vessel became stuck on Wednesday, but the company assigned to tow the ship says it possibly could take weeks.
The Suez Canal Authority said in a statement Thursday that navigation in the canal has been temporarily suspended.
A chief executive of the company towing the ship said Wednesday that it could be days to weeks before the vessel is completely gone from the shipping lanes.
Peter Berdowski of Royal Boskalis Westminster, a dredging company, told Dutch news program Nieuwsuur that it made a decision Wednesday to remove at least some of the ship’s cargo first because it would be impossible to move it when fully loaded, CNN reported.
Berdowski said the company may first have to take out fuel and ballast water, and try to move it during high tide. If that doesn’t work, additional efforts may include removing some containers and digging away the sand banks the ship is lodged on.
Images showed the bow of the Ever Given — a ship weighing 220,000 tons and over 1,300 feet long — touching the eastern wall of the canal, while its stern looked to be lodged against the western wall. Eight tugboats, the largest of which can pull 160 tons, are being used to tow Ever Given, according to the agency’s Facebook post.
But after an attempt to dislodge the ship failed Thursday morning, specialized suction dredgers were added to the effort, the New York Times reported.
Bernhard Schulte Shipmanagement, the company that manages the vessel, told the Associated Press that there were no reports of injuries and all 20 members of the crew are safe.
The company that owns the ship, Shoei Kisen Kaisha, said in a statement that it is cooperating with local authorities and Ever Given’s managers to fix the situation, but it admitted that it is facing “extreme difficulty.” It also offered an apology for “causing a great deal of worry to ships in the Suez Canal and those planning to go through the canal.”
“We sincerely apologise for causing a great deal of worry to ships in the Suez Canal and those planning to go through the canal,” the company added.
It wasn’t immediately clear what caused the ship to become wedged, an event that experts say they had never heard of happening before in the canal’s 150-year history.
Evergreen Marine Corp., a major Taiwan-based shipping company that operates the ship, said the Ever Given had been overcome by strong winds. An Egyptian official, who spoke to The Associated Press on condition of anonymity because he wasn’t authorized to brief journalists, similarly blamed a strong wind.
An early report suggested the ship suffered a power blackout before the incident, something Ever Given manager Bernhard Schulte Shipmanagement denied Thursday, the Associated Press reported. “Initial investigations rule out any mechanical or engine failure as a cause of the grounding,” the company said.
As crews work to dislodge the ship Thursday, some shipping firms are considering other routes.
At least 150 ships are waiting for the ship to be cleared, canal service provider Leth Agencies told AP. Some are waiting near Port Said on the Mediterranean Sea, while others are near Port Suez on the Red Sea.
But there are also at least 13 ships stuck behind the Ever Given in the channel in the Bitter Lakes, according to the SCA’s statement. Leth said those ships — and eventually the Ever Given when it is freed — will have to be reversed back to Port Suez to clear the canal system.
One possible reroute is around the southern tip of Africa that may extend the journey by a week, according to CNN. Shipping experts said the firms may be forced to take this journey if the blockage isn’t cleared within 48 hours.
This would have major economic implications as the narrow, man-made canal is a vital waterway that sees shipments of essentials like food and oil.
The Suez Canal connects the West to the East and allows the shortest trip from Europe to Asia. It sees, on average, 50 vessels a day, Salvatore R. Mercogliano, a former merchant mariner told the Associated Press.
“Every day the canal is closed … container ships and tankers are not delivering food, fuel and manufactured goods to Europe and goods are not being exported from Europe to the far East,” said Mercogliano, an associate professor of history at North Carolina’s Campbell University.
Seven vessels stuck in traffic Wednesday were carrying some 5 million barrels of crude oil, according to data firm Refinitiv. Oil prices climbed by 4%, Business Insider reported.
The Ever Given, built in 2018, is among the largest cargo ships in the world. At more than 1,300 feet long and 630 feet wide, it can carry up to 20,000 containers. It was traveling at 12.8 knots before the crash.
Contributing: The Associated Press