Salvager hopes to free ship blocking Suez Canal by start of next week

SATELLITE IMAGE ©2021 MAXAR TECHNOLOGIES / AFP

A giant container ship grounded in the Suez Canal could be freed by the start of next week if heavier tugboats, dredging and a high tide succeed in dislodging it, a Dutch firm working to free the vessel said.

The 400-metre (430-yard) long Ever Given became wedged diagonally across a southern section of the canal amid high winds early on Tuesday, disrupting global shipping by blocking one of the world's busiest waterways.

About 15% of world shipping traffic passes through the canal, and dozens of vessels are waiting in the waterway and around its northern and southern entrances for the blockage to be cleared.

Dredgers had removed some 20,000 tonnes of sand from around its bow by Friday, but tugging operations to free the ship were suspended overnight.

"We aim to get it done after the weekend, but everything will have to work out exactly right for that," Peter Berdowski, chief executive of Boskalis, told Dutch TV programme Nieuwsuur late on Friday.

Boskalis owns Smit Salvage, which was brought in this week to help with efforts by the Suez Canal Authority (SCA) to dislodge the ship.

"The bow is really stuck in the sandy clay, but the stern has not been pushed totally into the clay, which is positive. We can try to use that as leverage to pull it loose," Berdowski said.

"Heavy tugboats, with a combined capacity of 400 tonnes, will arrive this weekend. We hope that a combination of the tugboats, dredging of sand at the bow and a high tide will enable us to get the ship loose at the beginning of next week."

Shipping rates for oil product tankers nearly doubled after the ship became stranded, and the blockage has scrambled global supply chains, threatening costly delays for companies already dealing with COVID-19 restrictions.

If it drags on, shippers may decide to reroute around the Cape of Good Hope, adding about two weeks to journeys and extra fuel costs.

Three shipping agents said on Saturday that none of the ships waiting at the canal's entrances had yet requested to be rerouted.

Berdowski said a land crane would be brought in at the weekend which could lighten the Ever Given's load by offloading containers, though experts have warned that such a process could be complex and lengthy.

"If we don't succeed in getting it loose next week, we will have to remove some 600 containers from the bow to reduce the weight," he said.

"That will set us back days at least, because where to leave all those containers will be quite a puzzle."

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