CAIRO: A high tide on Sunday night raised hopes that salvage crews could free the giant container ship blocking the Suez Canal, halting billions of dollars in global trade and denying Egypt vital daily revenue.
Two powerful new tugboats, one Italian and one Dutch, will arrive early on Monday to join diggers on land and dredgers on the water trying to dislodge the 400-meter MV Ever Given, which has been wedged diagonally across the canal since Tuesday.
Dredgers had shifted 27,000 cubic meters of sand to a depth of 18 meters, and efforts would continue around the clock according to wind conditions and tides, the Suez Canal Authority said.
Authority chief Osama Rabie said the ship had moved from side to side for the first time. “There are positive indicators from yesterday and the day before yesterday,” he said.
“The rudder was not moving and it is now moving, the propeller is working now, there was no water underneath the bow, and now there is water under it, and the bow and the stern have each moved four meters.”
Rabie said a total of 14 tugboats had already been deployed. “We’re dividing the day into two halves, 12 hours for dredgers and 12 hours for tugs, because not all times are suitable for tugs due to the tide.”
The canal blockage has forced companies to choose between waiting or rerouting vessels around Africa, adding 9,000 kilometers and over a week to the trip between Asia and Europe, as well as vastly increased costs.
About 370 ships were stalled at either end of the canal, Rabie said, including dozens of container ships, bulk carriers, oil tankers and liquefied natural gas (LNG) or liquefied petroleum gas (LPG) vessels.
He said Egypt was losing up to $14 million in revenue for each day the canal was closed, and Lloyd’s List said the blockage was holding up an estimated $9.6-billion worth of cargo each day.
President Abdel Fattah El-Sisi has ordered preparations for the possible removal of some of the ship’s 18,300 containers, Rabie said, but any operation to lighten the ship’s load would not start before Monday. The area has been placed under tight security, with extra military and police personnel deployed.