Suez Canal: Egypt says blockage to end soon amid fears of knock-on effects
The Suez Canal Authority temporarily suspended navigation in the international maritime passageway on Thursday, as authority tug boats and diggers struggled to refloat a gigantic container vessel that was knocked off course and became wedged across the canal on Tuesday.
Meanwhile, salvage teams from the Netherlands and Japan have been hired to devise a plan to refloat the ship blocking the Suez Canal, the company leasing the vessel said on Thursday.
Suez Canal Authority spokesman George Safwat told Middle East Eye that his colleagues were doing their best to refloat the Panama-flagged ship.
‘The losses will become far bigger if the crisis drags on for days, let alone for weeks,’
– Rashad Abdo, Egyptian Forum for Economic and Strategic Studies
“Our tractors are now removing sand from around the vessel so that we can edge it away from the course,” Safwat said on Thursday. “We hope we can end the crisis very soon.”
The Ever Given container vessel, owned by the Taiwanese transport company Evergreen Marine, ran aground at around 18:30 GMT on Tuesday as it passed through the canal from China to Rotterdam.
The 400-meter-long and 59-meter-wide ship carried around 20,000 containers when it berthed and became wedged across the canal, creating a gridlock unseen for many years in the waterway, the shortest maritime link between the Red Sea and the Mediterranean, through which almost 12 percent of the world’s trade passes.
Suspending traffic in the canal came after an initial forecast by its authority that putting Ever Given to sea would not take a long time.
“However, we have decided to suspend navigation through the canal until the flotation of the vessel is complete,” authority chairman Admiral Osama Rabie said in a statement.
The Suez Canal Authority (SCA) has utilised the eight tug boats at its disposal, along with several diggers, in its bid to clear the waterway, amid expectations that it would take the authority and its engineers some time to do this.
This came as alarm increased inside international maritime lines and in the markets from the blockage of the canal.
International oil prices have already been affected, with the failure of oil tankers to pass through the canal to their destinations in different parts of the world.
There is uncertainty over the prospect of ending the crisis quickly, amid expectations that it could take days until engineers are able to refloat Ever Given.
The Dutch dredging and heavylift company, Royal Boskalis Westminster NV, expected the removal of the container vessel from the waterway to take weeks.
‘Weather conditions are contributing to the difficulty of the situation’
– Mohamed Mitwali, maritime transport specialist
The company’s CEO Peter Berdowski said he believes it is too early to tell how long the job might take.
“We can’t exclude it might take weeks depending on the situation,” Reuters quoted Berdowski as saying on Thursday.
Such an outcome will be a catastrophic scenario for Egypt, for world trade and for the Suez Canal.
Losses to the canal, to international maritime lines and to Egypt are now in the hundreds of millions of dollars.
“The losses will become far bigger if the crisis drags on for days, let alone for weeks,” Rashad Abdo, the director of local think tank Egyptian Forum for Economic Studies, told MEE.
He said an extended crisis could partially threaten energy supplies around the world and force international maritime lines to seek alternative routes, however far costlier than the Suez Canal.
International rescue effort
A team from Boskalis has already travelled to Egypt to help in efforts to refloat the Panamanian ship.
Another team considers travelling to the Arab country to offer a helping hand, amid expectations that other international specialised companies would fly their specialists to the canal to end the crisis.
The crisis takes place at an unfortunate time for Egypt and for international markets.
Egypt has been trying to compensate for some of the losses it sustained because of the Covid-19 pandemic, an effort in which the canal, which brings the populous country billions of dollars in revenues every year, takes centre stage.
International markets are also gasping for relief from the economic slowdown induced by the pandemic.
There is alarm inside Egyptian institutions from the effect of the crisis on the national economy.
The parliamentary committee on transport says it follows the crisis with the Suez Canal Authority around the hour to assess the efforts being made to end it and bring navigation in the canal back to normal.
“The authority is working hard to solve the problem and we are following the work being done in this regard very closely,” committee member Mahmud al-Dabaa told MEE. “We have confidence that the authority engineers are doing the right thing to bring the canal back to normal soon.”
Desperate for solutions
Specialists are mulling different solutions to pull Ever Given loose and end the blockage of the canal.
The solutions, the same specialists say, include the removal of water and oil from the ship to rid it of some of its weight.
The same solutions also include the removal of some of the 20,000 containers aboard the ship, although as a solution this will take considerable time.
“Weather conditions are contributing to the difficulty of the situation,” maritime transport specialist Mohamed Mitwali told MEE. “Adding to the difficulty is that any of these solutions will take time to implement.”
The SCA has apparently opted for dredging the part of the canal where the ship is now stuck, using its own tractors and diggers.
Safwat said the authority may resort to other solutions to bring a quick end to the crisis in the coming hours.
“We are considering all solutions to end the crisis,” Safwat said. “I am sure we will succeed soon.”
This content was originally published here.