Video: Ship stuck in Suez Canal is freed, allowing vital waterway to reopen

The giant container ship that has plugged the Suez Canal for nearly a week was dragged off the channel’s banks and refloated Monday, easing fears of a major, prolonged disruption to world trade.

The Ever Green had been trapped in the canal since Tuesday after its ends ran aground on opposite banks, completely blocking passage to hundreds of vessels lined up to ply the 120-mile waterway and deliver tons of freight.

“It is with utmost pleasure that we can confirm that the #Suez Canal Authority and staff have succeeded in re-floating M/V EVER GIVEN,” Leth Agencies, which offers services to ships transiting the canal, tweeted Monday afternoon. “She is currently underway to Great Bitter Lake. More information will follow on our profile. M/V EVER GIVEN is no longer #grounded.”

The full dislodging came hours after the ship was partially refloated following days of effort.

Overnight Sunday, 10 tugboats pulled the ship from four different directions, the Egyptian state-run Suez Canal Authority said. But it was the tide, drawn by a full moon, that may have proven to be the decisive factor for the partial refloating: At about 4:30 a.m. local time, with water levels rising in the area, the ship was “successfully refloated,” Lt. Gen. Osama Rabie, the authority’s chief, said in a statement on Monday.

He added that the ship had responded to the tugboats’ maneuvers, forcing what he said was a “restoration of 80% of the vessel’s direction” and swinging the stern of the vessel so that it now was roughly 332 feet from the western bank of the canal.

The rising tide proved crucial again later Monday morning when workers were able to fully drag the ship off the banks.

The ship is now heading north to the Great Bitter Lake, off the side of the canal, where it will undergo a technical inspection. Traffic through the 120-mile canal would then resume immediately, a Suez Canal Authority official said.

Videos shared on social media showed tugboats blaring their horns in raucous celebration as the Ever Given — looming like a mammoth among chihuahuas — appeared to swing out into the canal during the partial refloating.

That celebratory tone was taken up by Egyptian President Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi, who in a statement Monday lauded Egyptians for “ending the crisis … despite the massive technical complications that surrounded this operation from every side.” He added that the “whole world is assured of the passageway of its goods and requirements.”

But experts said major challenges remained.

“Don’t cheer too soon,” Peter Berdowski, CEO of the Dutch salvage firm Boskalis, told Dutch radio. “The good news is that the stern is free, but we saw that as the simplest part of the job.”

Another video taken a few hours later showed the Ever Given having been shifted to the eastern bank of the canal and no longer completely plugging the channel. But it was unclear when traffic could restart, a $10 billion question — the approximate value of goods traversing the canal every day — that has grown in urgency over the past week.

Under normal circumstances, more than 50 ships per day bearing more than 10% of the world’s cargo — from tea to TVs, livestock to furniture — traverse the waterway linking the Red Sea to the Mediterranean. By Monday morning, about 370 vessels were waiting at the Suez Canal’s southern and northern entrances, Leth Agencies said.

That backup included ships carrying oil and gas shipments crucial for several Middle Eastern countries. On Saturday, Syria’s oil ministry said the government would start rationing fuel until the Ever Given was freed. Lebanon, too, is waiting for a Kuwaiti tanker set to deliver gas oil to one of the country’s major power plants, local media reported on Friday.

The prospect of a breakthrough in the crisis couldn’t come too soon for the global economy. With the canal blocked, ships would have to voyage around Africa’s Cape of Good Hope, adding anywhere from 12 to 21 days to the journey and tens of thousands of dollars in extra fuel costs. For Egypt, it would mean a major loss of foreign currency from its operation of the canal, which in 2020 generated about $5.61 billion in revenue.

The effort to dislodge the Ever Given has become a national rallying cry in Egypt, with the usually stodgy Facebook page of the Suez Canal Authority inundated with comments from residents in solidarity with the government agency. On Monday morning, the hashtag #Suez_Canal_Heroes was making the rounds.

The Ever Given’s leviathan size has been the salvage crews’ chief enemy. At 1,300 feet long and 193 feet wide, the ship carries some 18,300 containers in stacks of nine, which add almost 200,000 tons to its already-gargantuan weight.

The ship also became lodged in arguably the worst place possible in the canal, in a narrow section less than 1,000 feet wide and lined with riprap, or chunks of rock dumped along shorelines to protect them. With the ship beached at both ends, the bow and stern carried the vessel’s entire weight, and the middle section began to sag.

That forced authorities to work 24-hour shifts, alternating between dredging and tugging by a growing fleet of tugboats. Over the weekend, those efforts removed almost 1 million cubic feet of mud and water — enough to fill about 11 Olympic swimming pools — to lower the depth of water along the bank to just under 60 feet, Rabie said.

In a bid to reduce the ship’s weight, some 9,000 tons of the Ever Given’s ballast water were released.

As the crisis dragged on, foreign governments offered assistance, including the U.S., the United Arab Emirates, China and Saudi Arabia. On Friday, White House press secretary Jen Psaki said the U.S. was “consulting with our Egyptian partners about how we can best support their efforts.” The U.S. Navy planned to dispatch an assessment team.

The Suez Canal Authority “expressed sincere gratitude” for the offers of help, while el-Sissi turned the operation into a matter of national pride.

“Egyptians proved today they are always equal to the responsibility,” el-Sissi said, “and that the canal they dug with the bodies of their ancestors and which they defended with the souls of their fathers … will continue to bear witness that Egyptians’ will shall go where Egyptians decide.”

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(c)2021 the Los Angeles Times

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