Suez Canal: uncertainty about the time required for unblocking

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Cairo | Fwill it take a few days or a few weeks to unblock the Suez Canal? Efforts continued on Friday to clear a 400-meter-long container ship stuck for four days across this critical lane for sea freight, which was badly affected.

• Read also: Suez Canal blocked, global shipping slowed

The company commissioned for the “rescue” of Ever Given was cautious, citing “days or even weeks” for the resumption of traffic on the channel, which sees pass, according to experts, nearly 10% of trade international maritime.

Suez Canal: uncertainty about the time required for unblocking

The incident, which occurred on Tuesday possibly due to strong winds combined with a sandstorm according to various sources, resulted in massive traffic jams.

According to the specialist journal Lloyd’s list, more than 200 ships are currently stranded at both ends and in the waiting area in the middle of the canal, causing significant delays in deliveries of oil and other products, with a brief impact on the prices of the black gold wednesday.

Shipping giant Maersk and Germany’s Hapag-Lloyd said on Thursday they were planning to divert their ships and pass through the Cape of Good Hope, a 9,000-kilometer detour and 10 additional days around the African continent. .

Suez Canal: uncertainty about the time required for unblocking

However, the overall costs are high in the field of maritime transport of goods in containers, with an estimate of about 5.1 billion dollars per day to Europe and 4.5 billion dollars to Asia, according to Lloyd’s list.

Maybe “weeks”

Since Wednesday, the Egyptian Suez Canal Authority (SCA) has been trying to free the vessel weighing more than 220,000 tonnes.

“Tugs and dredges are used to break rocks,” an official from the Japanese company Shoei Kisen Kaisha, owner of the boat, told AFP.

Suez Canal: uncertainty about the time required for unblocking

According to the SCA, between 15,000 and 20,000 cubic meters of sand would have to be removed to reach a depth of 12 to 16 meters and the ship afloat.

The SCA announced on Friday that 87% of the sand removal process was carried out by dredgers.

A significant high tide, expected early next week, could help the technical teams.

Egypt has received several offers of international aid, including that of the United States, according to the SCA.

Mohab Mamish, adviser to Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi on port matters, told AFP on Thursday evening that navigation would resume “in 48 to 72 hours maximum”. This former president of the SCA oversaw the recent expansion of this seaway.

Suez Canal: uncertainty about the time required for unblocking

But, a few hours earlier, the Dutch company Smit Salvage had warned that the operation could take “days, even weeks”.

The company that operates the vessel, Taiwan-based Evergreen Marine Corp, called on Smit Salvage and the Japanese company Nippon Salvage to put in “a more effective plan” for the rescue. The first experts arrived on Thursday.

Smit Salvage has taken part in major rescue operations in recent years, notably on the Costa Concordia, an Italian cruise ship which ran aground off Tuscany in 2012, and on the Russian nuclear submarine Kursk, which sank. with 118 men in August 2000.

“Rare” incidents

Nearly 19,000 ships used the canal in 2020, according to the SCA, an average of 51.5 ships per day.

Suez Canal: uncertainty about the time required for unblocking

According to a report by insurer Allianz Global Corporate & Specialty on maritime safety, “the Suez Canal has an excellent overall safety record with shipping incidents being extremely rare – in total, 75 shipping incidents were reported in the last decade ”.

The insurer specifies that the insured value of these ships, hull only, depends on many factors such as age, but is between $ 70 and $ 150 million.

According to the British journalist Rose George, author of a book on maritime transport, the latter “still brings us 90% of everything (…) and we are fundamentally dependent on it”.

According to her, “more than two thirds of maritime accidents are due to human error”.

Among the possible causes of the incident mentioned by the SCA and by experts so far are high winds, which would have deported the ship, and the sandstorm, which would have caused a problem of visibility.