Salvage teams have intensified excavation and dredging efforts around a massive container ship blocking the busy Suez Canal after canal chiefs launched a last-ditch bid to take advantage of the king tide brought on by the supermoon to help free the vessel.
Officials said operations were under way to make use the high tides created by the full moon this weekend to dislodge the 220,000-ton skyscraper-sized Ever Given, which has been wedged across the crucial waterway in Egypt since Tuesday.
The rescue efforts came as Egypt’s President Abdel Fattah Al-Sisi ramped up efforts to unblock the single-lane stretch and ordered preparations for the possible removal of some of the ship’s 18,300 containers if dislodging efforts failed.
The Suez Canal Authority (SCA) confirmed the process of unloading the cargo will take place if efforts to dislodge the ship fail while SCA Chairman Osama Rabie said any operation to lighten the ship’s load would not start before Monday.
A supermoon, which is widely recorded as being much larger and brighter than the moon on any other night, is when a full moon occurs at the closest point to Earth during its orbit.
The full moon offers a spring tide, or king tide, in which high tides are higher and the low tides are lower because of the effects of gravity during a straight-line alignment of the Earth, the moon and the sun.
As the hight tides came in tonight, diggers set to work removing parts of the canal’s bank and expanded dredging close to the ship’s bow to a depth of 18 metres but the large ship remained entrenched in the waterway, the Suez Canal Authority (SCA) said in a statement.
A newly arrived specialist tug also joined efforts to float the giant container ship tonight, the vessel’s technical manager Bernhard Schulte Shipmanagement (BSM) said in a statement.
‘Further attempts to re-float the vessel will continue this evening once the tug is safely in position along with the 11 tugs already on site,’ the statement said.
An additional dredger will also arrive from Cyprus by March 30, it added.
It came as rescue crews desperately trying to free the container ship today said they had made a breakthrough and had managed to move the skyscraper-sized vessel by nearly 100ft.
Rescue teams have intensified excavation and dredging efforts around the Ever Given container ship after high tides were created by the full moon
The Japanese-owned ship is disrupting global shipping valued at more than £6.5billion per day and is exacerbating the global economic crisis triggered by Covid-19
Officials said they wanted to make use of the the high tides created by the supermoon to dislodge the 220,000-ton skyscraper-sized Ever Given
The full moon offers a spring tide, or king tide, in which high tides are higher and the low tides are lower because of the effects of gravity during a straight-line alignment of the Earth, the moon and the sun
An aerial view taken on March 27, 2021 from the porthole of a commercial plane shows stranded ships waiting in queue in the Gulf of Suez to cross the Suez Canal at its southern entrance near the Red Sea port city of Suez
The vessel, which carries cargo between Asia and Europe, is disrupting global shipping valued at more than £6.5billion per day and is exacerbating the global economic crisis triggered by Covid-19.
However, in a major breakthrough, rescue crews reportedly told NBC News foreign correspondent Raf Sanchez they have managed to move the enormous carrier by around 98ft (30m) after deploying two tugboats.
Hopes have been raised that the cargo ship could be freed today after emergency crews were ordered to start offloading containers. Experts previously budged its stern and get its rudder and propeller working.
The Dutch-flagged Alp Guard and the Italian-flagged Carlo Magno, which were called in to work alongside tugboats already on scene, reached the Red Sea near the city of Suez earlier today.
They will now help nudge the Ever Given as dredgers continue to vacuum up sand from underneath the vessel and mud caked to its port side. They have so far shifted 27,000 cubic metres of sand around the ship to reach a depth of 60ft (18m) , the authority said in a statement.
Workers planned to make two attempts on Sunday to free the vessel coinciding with high tides helped by a full moon on Sunday night, a top pilot with the canal authority said.
‘Sunday is very critical,’ the pilot told the Associated Press. ‘It will determine the next step, which highly likely involves at least the partial offloading of the vessel.
‘Taking containers off the ship likely would add even more days to the canal’s closure, something authorities have been desperately trying to avoid.
Rescue crews desperately trying to free the container ship blocking the Suez Canal today said they have made a breakthrough and had managed to move the skyscraper-sized vessel by nearly 100ft
The massive Ever Given (pictured), a Panama-flagged, Japanese-owned ship that carries cargo between Asia and Europe, got stuck on Tuesday in a single-lane stretch of the canal
A tugboat near the Ever Given container ship which ran aground in the Suez Canal, Egypt, March 28, 2021
Two heavier tugboats sped to Egypt’s Suez Canal on Sunday to join efforts to free a skyscraper-sized container ship wedged for days across the crucial waterway. Pictured: Dredgers attempt to free the stranded ship on Sunday
Rescue reportedly told NBC News’ Raf Sanchez they have managed to move the enormous carrier by around 98ft
The plan is for the tugboats to nudge the 400-meter-long Ever Given as dredgers continue to vacuum up sand from underneath the vessel and mud caked to its port side, Bernhard Schulte Shipmanagement, which manages the Ever Given, said
Authorities have so far been unable to remove the vessel and traffic through the canal – valued at more than £6.5billion a day – has been halted, further disrupting a global shipping network already strained by the coronavirus pandemic
A handout satellite image made available by MAXAR Technologies shows excavation around the bow of the Ever Given and dredging operations in progress, in the Suez Canal, Egypt, March 28, 2021
Satellite imagery released by Maxar Technologies shows the container ship in the Suez Canal on the morning of March 28
‘It also would require a crane and other equipment that have yet to arrive.’
Taking containers off the ship would likely add even more days to the canal’s closure, something authorities have been desperately trying to avoid.
It would also require a crane and other equipment that have yet to arrive.
This weekend it was revealed that ships containing livestock and IKEA furnishings had been left stranded in the maritime traffic jam.
Gerit Weidinger, EU coordinator for NGO Animals International, told The Guardian: ‘My greatest fear is that animals run out of food and water and they get stuck on the ships because they cannot be unloaded somewhere else for paperwork reasons.’
Meanwhile IKEA said it had 110 containers on the stricken Ever Given and on other ships.
‘The blockage of the Suez Canal is an additional constraint to an already challenging and volatile situation for global supply chains brought on by the pandemic,’ an IKEA spokesperson said.
On Saturday, the head of the Suez Canal Authority told journalists that strong winds were ‘not the only cause’ for the Ever Given running aground, appearing to push back against conflicting assessments offered by others.
Lt. Gen. Osama Rabei said that an investigation was ongoing but did not rule out human or technical error.
Bernhard Schulte Shipmanagement maintains that their ‘initial investigations rule out any mechanical or engine failure as a cause of the grounding.’
However, at least one initial report suggested a ‘blackout’ struck the hulking vessel, which is carrying some 20,000 containers, at the time of the incident.
Rabei said he remained hopeful that dredging could free the ship without having to remove its cargo, but added that ‘we are in a difficult situation, it’s a bad incident.’
Rescue crews have managed to move the skyscraper-sized vessel by nearly 100ft after it found itself wedged across the crucial waterway in Egypt
Workers planned to make two attempts to free the vessel on Sunday, coinciding with high tides, a top pilot with the canal authority told The Associated Press
On Saturday, the head of the Suez Canal Authority told journalists that strong winds were ‘not the only cause’ for the Ever Given running aground, appearing to push back against conflicting assessments offered by others. Lt. Gen. Osama Rabei (pictured) said that an investigation was ongoing but did not rule out human or technical error
Stranded ships are now waiting in a queue in the Gulf of Suez after the container ship blocked the waterway
The Dutch-flagged Alp Guard and the Italian-flagged Carlo Magno were called in to assist the tugboats already in the canal and had reached the Red Sea near the city of Suez early on Sunday, according to satellite data from MarineTraffic.com. Pictured: Two boats are seen at the entrance of the Suez Canal on Sunday
Asked about when they expected to free the vessel and reopen the canal, he said: ‘I can’t say because I do not know.’
Shoei Kisen Kaisha Ltd., the company that owns the vessel, said it was considering removing containers if other refloating efforts failed.
On Friday, Peter Berdowski, CEO of Boskalis, the salvage firm hired to extract the Ever Given, said that the company hoped to pull the container ship free within days using a combination of heavy tugboats, dredging and high tides.
Berdowski told the Dutch current affairs show Nieuwsuur that the front of the ship is stuck in sandy clay, but the rear ‘has not been completely pushed into the clay and that is positive because you can use the rear end to pull it free’.
Berdowski said two large tugboats were on their way to the canal and are expected to arrive over the weekend.
‘The combination of the (tug) boats we will have there, more ground dredged away and the high tide, we hope that will be enough to get the ship free somewhere early next week,’ he said.
The Ever Given is wedged about 6 kilometers (3.7 miles) north of the canal’s Red Sea entrance near the city of Suez.
A prolonged closure of the crucial waterway would cause delays in the global shipping chain.
Some 19,000 vessels passed through the canal last year, according to official figures. About 10 per cent of world trade flows through the canal.
Rescue crews descended upon the scene in an effort to free the container ship blocking the Suez Canal today
Emergency crews were ordered to start offloading containers off the enormous carrier and workers plan to make two attempts on Sunday to free the vessel
Hopes that the cargo ship could be freed were given a boost today as emergency crews started offloading containers from Ever Given
Rescue teams arrive to the scene as dredgers continue to vacuum up sand from underneath the vessel and mud caked to its port side
Workers at the site have so far shifted 27,000 cubic metres of sand around the ship to reach a depth of 60ft
The closure could affect oil and gas shipments to Europe from the Middle East. Syria has already begun rationing the domestic distribution of fuel.
The country, which has been mired in a bloody civil war since 2011, faces a severe economic crisis. In March, it announced a more than 50 per cent rise in the price of petrol.
As of early Sunday, more than 320 ships were waiting to travel through the Suez, either to the Mediterranean or the Red Sea, according to canal services firm Leth Agencies.
Dozens of others still listed their destination as the canal, though shippers increasingly appear to be avoiding the passage.
The world’s biggest shipping company, Denmark’s A.P. Moller-Maersk, warned its customers that it would take anywhere from three to six days to clear the backlog of vessels at the canal.
The Ever Given is wedged about 6 kilometers (3.7 miles) north of the canal’s Red Sea entrance near the city of Suez. A prolonged closure of the crucial waterway would cause delays in the global shipping chain
Ships and boats are seen at the entrance of Suez Canal after it was blocked by the stranded container ship Ever Given
The firm and its partners already have 22 ships waiting there.
‘The current number [of] redirected Maersk and partner vessels is 14 and expected to rise as we assess the salvage efforts along with network capacity and fuel on our vessels currently en route to Suez,’ the shipper said.
Mediterranean Shipping Co., the world’s second-largest, said it had already rerouted at least 11 ships around Africa’s Cape of Good Hope to avoid the canal.
It turned back two others, and said it expected ‘some missed sailings as a result of this incident.’
‘MSC expects this incident to have a very significant impact on the movement of containerized goods, disrupting supply chains beyond the existing challenges posed by the COVID-19 pandemic,’ it said.
Why is the Suez Canal so important?
The Suez canal, which is around 120 miles long links the Persian Gulf and the Mediterranean and is the shortest shipping route between the Atlantic and the Indian Ocean.
Before the canal, shipping from Europe either had to go overland or risk going around Cape Horn and the South Atlantic.
In April 1859, construction of the canal officially begins, much of the work financed by France.
It was opened for navigation on November 17, 1869 for vessels from all countries, although the British government later wanted to have an armed force in the area to protect shipping interests having picked up a 44 per cent stake in the canal in 1875.
The Suez Canal links the Red Sea and the Mediterranean providing a short cut from the Indian Ocean to the Atlantic
From then, while nominally owned by Egypt, the canal was run by Britain and France until its until its nationalisation in 1956 .
The nationalisation by Nasser saw Britain and France launched an abortive and humiliating bid to recapture the vital waterway.
The canal was shut briefly following the attempted invasion.
However, in 1967 the canal was shut for eight years following the Six Day war with Israel.
Due to the instability in the region, the canal remained closed until 1975 – its longest ever closure, as the waterway had been mined and some vessels had been sunk in the main channel.
The Suez Canal is actually the first canal that directly links the Mediterranean Sea to the Red Sea.
In 2015 a new section of the canal opened, allowing vessels to traverse the waterway in both directions at the same time.
Future plans will see the two-lane system extended across the entire network- doubling current capacity of the canal.
The largest cargo vessels pay more than £180,000 in tolls to traverse the canal.
On average about 40-50 cargo vessels use the canal on a daily basis in a trip that takes around 11 hours, as speed along the waterway is limited to about 9kts to prevent the banks of the canal getting washed away.
Along the canal there are emergency mooring slots so vessels can pull over if they are suffering a mechanical issue.
When the canal first opened, the channel was approximately 26 feet deep and 72 feet wide at the bottom. The surface was between 200 and 300 feet wide to allow ships to pass.
By the 1960s, dredging of the canal increased the depth to 40 feet and widened the waterway to allow larger vessels.
Now, the minimum depth of the canal is 66feet, though this is been increased to 72 feet – allowing even larger vessels.