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Egyptian authorities continue to try to free ship blocking Suez Canal

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The Taiwan-owned MV 'Ever Given' (Evergreen) container ship, a 400-metre-long and 59-metre wide vessel, is lodged sideways and impeding all traffic across the waterway of Egypt's Suez Canal, on March 26, 2021. Photo: AFP
  • MV Ever Given has been wedged diagonally across the entire canal since Tuesday.
  • Blockage has caused huge traffic jams for dozens of ships and major delays in the delivery of oil and other products.
  • Egypt's Suez Canal Authority says between 15,000 and 20,000 cubic metres of sand would have to be removed in order to refloat the ship.

CAIRO: For the fourth consecutive day tugboats and dredgers were busy freeing a giant container ship blocking Egypt's Suez Canal as companies re-route services from the vital shipping lane around Africa.

The MV Ever Given, which is longer than four football fields, has been wedged diagonally across the entire canal since Tuesday, when social media users began posting about it.

The blockage has caused huge traffic jams for dozens of ships and major delays in the delivery of oil and other products.

An official from Shoei Kisen Kaisha, the Japanese company that owns the ship, told AFP on Friday that crews were working to refloat it.

"Tug boats and dredgers are being used to crush rocks" in efforts to dislodge the boat, she told AFP, adding that the company did not have information on the exact status of damage to the vessel.

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Global shipping giant Maersk and Germany's Hapag-Lloyd have both said they are looking into re-routing around the southern tip of Africa.

"With the Suez Canal set to remain blocked for at least another day or two, shipping companies are being forced to confront the spectre of taking the far longer route around the Cape of Good Hope to get to Europe or the east coast of North America," said Lloyd's List, a shipping data and news company.

"The first container ship to do this is Evergreen's Ever Greet… a sistership to Ever Given," it said in a statement.

The Suez Canal drastically shortens travel between Asia and Europe.

The Singapore-Rotterdam route, for example, is 6,000 kilometres (3,700 miles) and up to two weeks shorter via the canal than going around Africa's Cape of Good Hope.

Fears blockage could last weeks

Egypt's Suez Canal Authority has said between 15,000 and 20,000 cubic metres of sand would have to be removed in order to reach a depth of 12-16 metres and refloat the ship.

Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi's seaports adviser, Mohab Mamish, told AFP late Thursday that "maritime navigation will resume again within 48-72 hours, maximum".

"I have experience with several rescue operations of this kind and as the former chairman of the Suez Canal Authority, I know every centimetre of the canal," said Mamish, who oversaw the recent expansion of the waterway.

However, salvage experts had warned earlier on Thursday the shutdown could last days or even weeks.

Smit Salvage has in the past worked on the wrecks of Russian nuclear submarine Kursk and Italian cruise ship Costa Concordia.

Evergreen has asked Smit Salvage and Japanese company Nippon Salvage to put in place a "more effective plan" to refloat the ship.

Smit Salvage said it was deploying a team to the site Thursday to assess what it would take to dislodge the Panama-flagged vessels.

Crude prices jumped by almost 6% on Wednesday in response to the Suez Canal blockage.

But they tumbled on Thursday, at one point completely wiping out the earlier gains.

"Oil prices corrected excess gains that accumulated from the Suez Canal blockage as the disruption's effect is likely not one that will last too long," said Bjornar Tonhaugen of energy consultancy Rystad.


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