Container ship that grounded in Suez Canal moves, but ‘too soon to celebrate’

The ship the Ever Given, which has been blocking the important shipping route through the Suez Canal for almost a week, moved slightly last night. But according to CEO Peter Berdowski of maritime services provider Boskalis, it is still too early to say that the problems have been solved. According to him it will be quite a job to get the ship’s bow loose. Boskalis is helping with this.

A team of Boskalis’ subsidiary Smit Salvage is on site to help free the ship. In the night from Sunday to Monday, Berdowski said in the Dutch Radio 1 News that with the help of a heavy tug, the Dutch ALP Guard with a bollard pull of 285 metric tonnes, it was possible to free the stern of the ship. The ship’s propellers were freed from the mud in the Suez Canal by dredgers. At least eleven tugboats were needed to get the vessel to move.

The angle of the ship as it is fixed has been turned from thirty degrees to ten degrees. Head of the Suez Canal Authority Osama Rabie reported that the stern of the ship is now 102 metres off the shore where before this was just four metres. The most difficult job, however, is to free the bow, according to Berdowski. It is stuck like a ‘whale stuck on the beach’ and it will be a hell of a job to slide it over the clay layer.

Water spray to free bow of sand and clay

Later on Monday morning, a second heavy tug arrived to pull the ship completely free. Water will be sprayed under the ship with great force to wash away the sand and clay. If it is not possible to free the front of the ship in this way, containers may have to be hoisted from the front of the ship.

According to Berdowski, the latter is a mammoth task because it has to be done in the middle of the desert, where the strong winds are to the disadvantage of the operation. ‘A time-consuming job’ predicts Boskalis’ CEO as well. The containers could possibly be picked off the ship with a large crane and loaded onto another ship.

‘No piece of cake’

Berdowski hopes that it will not come to that and that the Ever Given will be able to get off the ground by means of pulling force. ‘There is movement. That’s the good news,’ he says. ‘But I wouldn’t want to translate the situation that from now on it’s going to be a piece of cake.’

This means it is still not clear exactly how long it will take before shipping through the canal will be possible again. Rabie tried to reassure the international maritime community by saying that navigation in the canal would soon be resumed once the vessel is fully floated and directed to wait in the Lakes region for a technical investigation.

Also read: Suez Canal Authority: Wind not main cause of container ship Ever Given grounding

320 vessels waiting to pass Suez Canal

The 400-metre, 224,000-tonne Ever Given ran aground in the Suez Canal on Tuesday 23 March, blocking the important shipping lane between Asia and Europe. The blockage caused a huge queue of waiting ships on both sides of the Suez Canal. According to the Suez Canal Authority, more than 320 vessels, including container ships and oil tankers, were waiting on Sunday afternoon.

About twelve per cent of the world’s goods trade passes through the Suez Canal. Normally, almost ten billion dollars worth of goods are transported daily through the 193 kilometres long waterway between the Red Sea and the Mediterranean. A long blockade can have major consequences for world trade, with, for example, delivery problems for shops and shortages of certain goods in industry.

Also read: Port congestion looms the longer the Ever Given is blocking the Suez Canal

Because of the blockade, some shipping companies chose to have their ships sail around the South African Cape of Good Hope. Container shipping companies Maersk and CMA GGM, among others, took that decision in order to circumvent the blockade.

Also read: Huge container ship blocks Suez Canal

Source: ANP

Pictures by Suez Canal Authority.

Author: Mariska Buitendijk

Mariska Buitendijk is one of SWZ|Maritime's journalists as well as the magazine's copy editor.