The Egyptian authorities are engaged in a race against time on Sunday, the sixth day of blockade of the Suez Canal by a container ship 400 meters in length which disrupts all maritime trade and causes billions of dollars in losses every day .
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If the giant ship has withstood the latest refloating attempts, an expected high tide in the evening could make life easier for rescuers.
New operations are underway to refloat the Ever Given – nearly 220,000 tonnes – stuck since Tuesday diagonally across the canal, completely blocking this waterway of about 300 meters in width, one of the busiest in the world.
The Suez Canal, some 190 km long, handles around 10% of international maritime trade and each day of unavailability causes significant delays and costs for players in the sector.
A dozen tugs, as well as dredges to suck up the sand under the ship whose bow is embedded in the shore, are mobilized.
According to Egyptian Suez Canal Authority (SCA) spokesperson George Safwat, some 27,000 cubic meters of sand have already been cleared, 18 meters deep.
The Panamanian-flagged container ship was surrounded on Sunday morning by a few tugs, according to an AFP journalist. About sixty meters high with its load, it dominates the surrounding fields and palm trees.
The surroundings were placed under close surveillance, with canal security agents, but also soldiers and police.
Two dredgers that were in the Red Sea were heading towards the immobilized mastodon: the Italian Carlo Magno and the Dutch Alp Guard, according to maritime traffic visualization sites. And two more Egyptian tugs are due to be put into service, according to the SCA.
According to the Egyptian state press, President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi ordered “preparations” to lighten the ship of its containers, in the event of failure of the unblocking maneuvers.
Admiral Ossama Rabie, chairman of the SCA, was optimistic on Saturday. According to him, the ship “moved 30 degrees to the right and to the left” for the first time, “a good indicator” of the evolution of the efforts.
“Sources close to the rescue operation told me this morning that optimism in the team of experts is on the rise and they hope the ship can be unblocked in 24 to 48 hours,” Richard tweeted on Sunday. Meade, editor-in-chief of the shipping journal Lloyd’s List.
Now, 369 boats are stuck at both ends of the passage connecting the Red Sea to the Mediterranean Sea, Rabie told Al-Arabiya television on Sunday.
Insurer Allianz estimated on Friday that each day of downtime could cost global trade between $ 6 billion and $ 10 billion.
And the first consequences are already being felt: Syria said on Saturday that it had started rationing fuels, faced with the delay in delivering an oil cargo.
In addition, eleven cargo ships from Romania are also stranded. The organization Animals International mentions a danger of death for the 130,000 animals.
According to the state newspaper Al-Ahram, the Egyptian Ministry of Agriculture sent three veterinary teams.
Costs and alternatives
The total value of goods blocked or having to take another route differs according to estimates: from $ 3 billion according to Jonathan Owens, a logistics expert at the British University of Salford, to 9.6 billion according to Lloyd’s List.
Oil prices have risen sharply since the start of the incident.
The canal authorities claimed that Egypt was losing between $ 12 million and $ 14 million per day of closure. Nearly 19,000 ships used the canal in 2020, according to SCA.
While waiting for the resumption of traffic, several players in international maritime transport such as Maersk or the French shipowner CMA-CGM have decided to divert certain ships and pass through the Cape of Good Hope, around the African continent. This represents a detour of 6000 km between Singapore and Rotterdam for example.
“The group has decided to divert two of its ships bound for Asia via the Cape of Good Hope and is studying other alternatives for its customers, the deployment of air or rail solutions”, explained the French shipowner. Sunday at AFP.
Thirty-two ships belonging to Maersk or its partners will be affected by the end of the weekend, said the Danish shipping giant.
While the strong winds combined with a sandstorm were first pointed out to explain the incident, Mr. Rabie spoke on Saturday of a possible “human error” among the reasons for the grounding.