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Another attempt to refloat megaship blocking Egypt’s Suez Canal fails

Dislodging vessel delaying billions in trade could take weeks; at least 20 ships carrying livestock held up, raising fears for animals’ safety; expert doubts wind caused accident

In this photo released by the Suez Canal Authority, a cargo ship, named the Ever Given, sits with its bow stuck into the wall on March 24, 2021, after it become wedged across Egypt’s Suez Canal and blocked all traffic in the vital waterway. (Suez Canal Authority via AP)
In this photo released by the Suez Canal Authority, a cargo ship, named the Ever Given, sits with its bow stuck into the wall on March 24, 2021, after it become wedged across Egypt’s Suez Canal and blocked all traffic in the vital waterway. (Suez Canal Authority via AP)

An attempt to refloat a megaship blocking Egypt’s Suez Canal failed Friday, the vessel’s managers said, as the crisis forced companies to re-route services from the vital shipping lane around Africa.

The MV Ever Given, which is longer than four football fields, has been wedged diagonally across the entire canal since Tuesday, shutting the waterway in both directions.

“Another attempt to refloat the vessel earlier today… was not successful,” the Singapore-based Bernhard Schulte Shipmanagement (BSM) said in a statement.

The blockage has caused a huge traffic jam for more than 200 ships at either end of the 193-kilometer (120-mile) long canal and major delays in the delivery of oil and other products.

BSM said “the focus is now on dredging to remove sand and mud from around the port side of the vessel’s bow.”

It said Smit Salvage, a Dutch firm that has worked on some of the most famous wrecks of recent years, confirmed there would be “two additional tugs” arriving by Sunday to assist.

شاهد بالفيديو | تواصل أعمال تعويم السفينة الجانحة EVER GIVEN .#قناة_السويس_شريان_الحياة #SuezCanal #evergiven

Posted by ‎هيئة قناة السويس Suez Canal Authority‎ on Thursday, March 25, 2021

There had been “no reports of pollution or cargo damage and initial investigations rule out any mechanical or engine failure as a cause of the grounding,” BSM said.

Crews had been seen working through the night, using a large dredging machine under floodlights.

But the vessel with a gross tonnage of 219,000 has yet to budge, forcing global shipping giant Maersk and Germany’s Hapag-Lloyd to look into re-routing around the southern tip of Africa.

That is likely to cost several hundred thousand dollars in extra fuel, raising shipping costs by 15-20 percent, according to Plamen Natzkoff, an expert at VesselsValue.

Cargo ships idle in the Gulf of Suez, March 26, 2021. (AP Photo/Mohamed Elshahed)

“Shipping companies are being forced to confront the spectre of taking the far longer route around the Cape of Good Hope to get to Europe or the east coast of North America,” said Lloyd’s List, a shipping data and news company.

“The first container ship to do this is Evergreen’s Ever Greet… a sistership to Ever Given,” it said, noting that the route can take up to an additional 12 days.

Egypt’s Suez Canal Authority said the megaship veered off course and ran aground when winds reaching 40 knots whipped up a sandstorm that affected visibility.

BSM also said that “initial investigations suggest the vessel grounded due to strong wind.”

Lloyd’s List said data indicated 213 vessels were now stalled at either end of the canal, which links the Mediterranean and the Red Sea.

This satellite image from Cnes2021, Distribution Airbus DS, shows the cargo ship MV Ever Given stuck in the Suez Canal near Suez, Egypt, March 25, 2021. (Cnes2021, Distribution Airbus DS via AP)

The blockage was holding up an estimated $9.6 billion worth of cargo each day between Asia and Europe, it said.

“Rough calculations suggest westbound traffic is worth around $5.1 billion daily while eastbound traffic is worth $4.5 billion,” said Lloyd’s.

Shipping expert Rose George said it was “inevitable there’s going to be some knock-on cost effect” for consumers around the world, but cast doubt on the explanation that gusts of wind caused the ship’s grounding.

“I don’t know if that’s true, but I do know that more than two thirds of marine accidents are due to human error,” she told AFP in London.

The canal authority has said between 15,000 and 20,000 cubic meters of sand would have to be removed in order to reach a depth of 12-16 meters and refloat the ship.

Ever Given, a Panama-flagged cargo ship, that is wedged across the Suez Canal and blocking traffic in the vital waterway is seen March 26, 2021 (AP Photo/Mohamed Elshahed)

If those efforts fail, salvage teams will look to unload some of the Ever Given’s cargo and take advantage of a spring high tide due to start on Sunday night to move the vessel.

Natzkoff said teams would likely throw even more resources behind their efforts in coming days to make the most of that opportunity.

“If they don’t manage to dislodge it during that high tide, the next high tide is not there for another couple of weeks, and that becomes problematic,” he said.

But, he added, “the stakes are too high for it to take months.”

Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi’s seaports adviser, Mohab Mamish, who oversaw the recent expansion of the waterway, told AFP late Thursday that “maritime navigation will resume again within 48-72 hours, maximum.”

Salvage experts had already warned the shutdown could last days or even weeks, however.

This photo released by the Suez Canal Authority on March 25, 2021, shows two tugboats next to the Ever Given, a Panama-flagged cargo ship, after it become wedged across the Suez Canal and blocking traffic in the vital waterway from another vessel (Suez Canal Authority via AP)

Turkey on Friday offered to send a tugboat to help Egypt free the Panama-flagged vessel, as it pressed on with its bid to mend ties with regional rivals.

The United States also said it was ready to send support, including a team of US Navy experts.

Crude prices jumped by almost six percent Wednesday in response to the canal blockage.

But they tumbled on Thursday, at one point completely wiping out the gains.

“Oil prices corrected excess gains that accumulated from the Suez Canal blockage as the disruption’s effect is likely not one that will last too long,” said Bjornar Tonhaugen of energy consultancy Rystad.

Among the ships being delayed by the Ever Given are at least 20 vessels carrying livestock, raising fears about the animals’ condition.

Five of the livestock carriers came from Spain and nine from Romania, The Guardian reported. The ships set out earlier this month.

The animals are likely fine for the time being, but could run into problems if dislodging the ship takes weeks. The livestock transports could pick up supplies, including food and water for the animals, in nearby ports but it would likely be a complicated process.

Aside from supply problems, the ships cannot get rid of animals’ waste or any dead animal bodies.

An animal rights official called the livestock ships “a ticking biohazard timebomb for animals and the crew and any person involved.”

Accusations of animal cruelty have previously been made against live transport ships, including vessels arriving in Israel.

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