SUEZ, Egypt – Naval crowds rose to more than 200 vessels Friday in front of the Suez Canal, and some vessels began to change direction as excavators worked frantically to release a giant container ship that got stuck sideways on the waterway and disrupted global navigation.
One rescue expert said the release of the cargo ship, Ever Given, could at best take up to a week, and warned of possible structural problems on board while it remained stuck.
The management of the Suez Canal said it welcomed international offers of assistance, including from the United States, although it did not say what was offered.
Ever Given, owned by the Japanese company Shoei Kisen KK, crashed into a one-lane part of the canal on Tuesday, about 6 kilometers (3.7 miles) north of the southern entrance, near the city of Suez.
A team from Boskalis, a Dutch remediation firm, is working with the canal authorities. using a tug and a specialized suction excavator that tries to remove sand and mud around the arched side of the bow. Egyptian authorities have banned media access to the site.
An attempt to free himself on Friday failed, said Bernhard Schulte Shipmanagement, technical director of Ever Given. The plan is to pump out water from the interior of the ship, and two more tugs should arrive by Sunday, the company said.
An initial investigation showed the ship ran aground due to strong winds and ruled out a mechanical failure or engine as the cause, the company said. GAC, a global shipping and logistics company, said earlier that the ship had experienced a power outage, but did not explain.
Bernhard Schulte said two canal pilots were on board when he got stuck. Such an arrangement is common, but according to ship experts the captain of the ship retains final authority over the vessel.
In addition to over 200 ships waiting near the canal, more than 100 ships were heading towards the waterway, according to Refinitiv.
Apparently anticipating major delays, the owners of the stranded vessel diverted their sister ship Ever Greet to head for Africa instead, according to satellite data.
Others are also redirected to avoid the channel. Liquid natural gas carrier Pan Americas has changed course in the mid-Atlantic, now aiming south to circumnavigate the southern tip of Africa, according to satellite data from MarineTraffic.com.
About 10% of world trade flows through the canal, which is especially crucial for the transport of oil. The closure could also affect oil and gas supplies to Europe from the Middle East.
The release of the ever given “is quite a challenge” and could take five days to a week, .Cap. Nick Sloane, a maritime rescue expert who led the high-profile rescue efforts of the 2012 Costa Concordia cruise, told the Associated Press.
The position, size and large amount of Ever Given’s cargo make the operation more complex, Sloane said. The operation should initially focus on dredging the coast and seabed around it to float again, instead of unloading cargo, which could take weeks.
That’s because the clock is also structurally ticking for the vessel, he added.
“The longer it lasts, the worse the condition of the ship will be, because it is slowly deteriorating,” said Sloane, vice president of the International Rescue Union. “So the ships are designed to bend, but not to be held in that position with full load for weeks. So, it is not an easy situation. ”
International companies are preparing for the effect that canal clogging will have on supply chains that rely on accurate deliveries of goods. Singapore Transport Minister Ong Ye Kung said the port in the country should expect disruptions.
“If that happens, it will become necessary to reduce stocks a bit,” he said on Facebook.
The backlog of ships could highlight European ports and the international supply of containers, which are already burdened by a coronavirus pandemic, according to IHS Markit, a business research group. It was said that 49 container ships were supposed to pass through the canal in the week since Ever Given was placed.
The delay could also result in large insurance claims by companies, according to Marcus Baker, Marine & Cargo’s global head of brokerage insurance at Marsh, with a ship like Ever Given typically covering between $ 100 million and $ 200 million.
Those trying to free the vessel want to avoid complications that could prolong the closure of the canal, according to an Egyptian canal authority official. The official spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to speak to reporters.
Satellite and photos distributed by the channel’s management show Ever Given’s arch touching the east wall, while its stern was leaning against the west wall.
Ever Given had an accident in the north of Germany in 2019, when he ran into a small ferry moored on the river Elbe in Hamburg. There were no passengers on the ferry at the time and no one was injured, but it was seriously damaged.
Hamburg prosecutors have opened an investigation against captain and pilot Ever Given on suspicion of endangering shipping, but have postponed it in 2020 due to lack of evidence, spokeswoman Liddy Oechtering told the Associated Press.
Oechtering also could not say what the investigation determined the cause of the accident, but officials at the time suggested that strong winds may have carried the slow cargo ship to the ferry.
Associated Press writers David Rising of Berlin and Pan Pylas of London contributed.