A giant container ship remained stuck sideways in Egypt’s Suez Canal for a fifth day Saturday, as authorities prepared to make new attempts to free the vessel and reopen the crucial east-west waterway for global shipping.
The Ever Given, a Panama-flagged ship that carries cargo between Asia and Europe, ran aground Tuesday in the narrow canal that runs between Africa and the Sinai Peninsula. The massive vessel got stuck in a single-lane stretch of the canal, about 6 kilometers (3.7 miles) north of the southern entrance, near the city of Suez. Bernhard Schulte Shipmanagement, the technical manager of the Ever Given, said an attempt Friday to free it failed. Plans were in the works to pump water from interior spaces of the vessel, and two more tugs should arrive by Sunday to join others already trying to move the massive ship, it said.
An official at the Suez Canal Authority said they planned to make at least two attempts Saturday to free the vessel when the high tide goes down. He said the timing depends on the tide. The official spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to brief journalists. Egyptian authorities have prohibited media access to the site. The canal authority said its head, Lt. Gen. Osama Rabei, would hold a news conference Saturday in the city of Suez, a few kilometers from the site of the vessel.
Shoei Kisen President Yukito Higaki told a news conference at company headquarters in Imabari in western Japan that 10 tugboats were deployed and workers were dredging the banks and sea floor near the vessel’s bow to try to get it afloat again as the high tide starts to go out. Shoei Kisen said in a statement Saturday the company was considering removing containers to lighten the vessel if refloating efforts fail, but that would be a difficult operation. The White House said it has offered to help Egypt reopen the canal.
"We have equipment and capacity that most countries don’t have and we’re seeing what we can do and what help we can be,” President Joe Biden told reporters Friday. An initial investigation showed the vessel ran aground due to strong winds and ruled out mechanical or engine failure, the company and the canal authority said. GAC, a global shipping and logistics company, had previously said the ship had experienced a power blackout, but it did not elaborate.
A maritime traffic jam grew to around 280 vessels Saturday outside the Suez Canal, according to canal service provider Leth Agencies. Some vessels began changing course and dozens of ships were still en route to the waterway, according to the data firm Refinitiv. A prolonged closure of the crucial waterway would cause delays in the global shipment chain. Some 19,000 vessels passed through the canal last year, according to official figures. About 10% of world trade flows through the canal, which is particularly crucial for transporting oil.
The closure could affect oil and gas shipments to Europe from the Middle East. It remained unclear how long the blockage would last. Even after reopening the canal that links factories in Asia to consumers in Europe, the waiting containers are likely to arrive at busy ports, forcing them to face additional delays before offloading. Apparently anticipating long delays, the owners of the stuck vessel diverted a sister ship, the Ever Greet, on a course around Africa instead, according to satellite data.
Others also are being diverted. The liquid natural gas carrier Pan Americas changed course in the mid-Atlantic, now aiming south to go around the southern tip of Africa, according to satellite data from MarineTraffic.com.