A giant container ship that has blocked the Suez Canal for nearly a week has finally been dislodged, but it is not yet clear when shipping traffic will resume.
A canal services company said salvage teams had “partially refloated” the colossal Ever Given, but it still remains wedged across the vital global shipping route.
Leth Agencies announced on Monday afternoon (AEDT) that the modest breakthrough came after intensive efforts to push and pull the ship with 10 tugboats, and vacuum up sand with dredgers at spring tide.
The company said it was awaiting confirmation of the refloating from the Suez Canal Authority.
Authority chief Lieutenant General Osama Rabae said workers continued “pulling manoeuvres” to refloat the vessel.
Satellite data from MarineTraffic.com showed the ship in the same position, surrounded by a squadron of tugboats with its bow stuck in the canal’s eastern bank.
Earlier, two more tug boats were sent to help with the massive operation in the Suez Canal to help dislodge the huge vessel, which has blocked the canal for nearly a week.
General Rabae said the propeller and rudder of the 400-metre Panama-flagged ship Ever Given had started to work again after it veered off course in a single-lane stretch of the canal during a sandstorm on March 23.
“The rudder was not moving and it is now moving, the propeller is working now, there was no water underneath the bow, and now there is water under it, and yesterday there was a four-metre deviation in the bow and the stern,” General Rabae said.
Amid mounting pressure on Egypt to free the stricken vessel, General Rabae said the blockage was costing the canal $US13 million to $US14 million ($18.3 million) every day.
The incident has resulted in a huge tailback, with 369 vessels – including 25 oil tankers – waiting to pass through the canal. More shipping companies are rerouting vessels away from the waterway as a result.
General Rabae hinted that incentives might be offered to those vessels to make up for their losses.
“We are thinking of offering some cuts [in fees] to the stranded ships after we finish the issue of the grounded vessel,” he told Saudi-owned al-Arabiya television.
The Ever Given has 18,300 containers on board.
International shipping firm CMA CGM Group said it would divert two vessels around Africa’s Cape of Good Hope to mitigate the impact of the incident on shipments.
Nineteen of its vessels were affected by the blockage, the company said online.
CMA CGM operates more than 560 vessels worldwide.
The Mediterranean Shipping Company, another large company, has already said it will redirect 11 vessels via the Cape of Good Hope.
In a statement, the company said there was “no doubt” the Suez Canal blockage was going to end up being “one of the biggest disruptions to global trade” in recent years.
But General Rabae downplayed talk about shifting to alternative shipping routes.
“The Suez Canal will remain the safest and shortest route. We also provide good services,” he told private Egyptian TV station Extra News.
The official said dredgers and tug boats were working around the clock to free the stuck mega-ship, which has already disrupted supply chains and sent ripples through global markets.
An attempt was made on Saturday night to free the ship on the high tide, according to General Rabae.
Egyptian President Abdel-Fattah al-Sissi had ordered preparations for the possibility of reducing the load of containers on the vessel to help free it, General Rabae said.
“Shifting to the third scenario (offloading containers) is very difficult and will take a long time. We hope we will not resort to it,” he said.
He sounded optimistic that rescue efforts would pay off in a “short time”, although he declined to give a specific time frame.
SCA might seek international assistance if the cargo needed to be offloaded, the official added.
The 193-kilometre Suez Canal connects the Mediterranean to the Red Sea, providing the shortest shipping route between Asia and Europe.
At least 18,840 ships passed through the canal in 2020.
The Suez Canal provides one of Egypt’s main sources of income, alongside tourism and remittances from expatriates.
Revenue from the waterway reached $US5.6 billion ($7.3 billion) last year.