The push to free the container ship stuck in the Suez Canal intensified Sunday as a growing fleet of tugboats and excavators worked to oust the 1,300-foot vessel. Egyptian officials said they were preparing to unload part of the cargo if other attempts were unsuccessful.
While efforts to free the Ever Given have been making gradual progress since Friday night, two separate attempts to refloat them over the weekend failed, according to shipping authorities. Channel service provider Leth Agencies said another trial was planned for Sunday afternoon local time, supported by two additional smugglers registered in Italy and the Netherlands.
Dredging has removed more than 20,000 tons of sand and mud, loosening the ship’s bow, and the ship’s stern has been freed from the sandbank,” Evergreen Marine, the Taiwan-based company that operates the ship, said on Sunday.
The ship’s rudder and propeller are fully operational and are designed to support the tugs to move the container ship away from the accident site so that normal passage through the canal can resume,” Evergreen added.
Egyptian President Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi ordered preparations to be made for the possible removal of some of the ship’s 18,300 containers as an emergency plan, the head of the Suez Canal authority, Osama Rabie, told local media. The Reuters news agency reported that such an operation to relieve the ship would not begin until Monday.
Rabie said the president has approved the procurement of the equipment needed to unload the containers while dredging continues, The Washington Post reported.
Meanwhile, the number of ships waiting to pass the blockade has risen to 327, according to Leth Agencies.
For days, smugglers have been trying to free the Ever Given by towing and pushing the ship since it ran aground on Tuesday, blocking the main sea route between Europe and Asia.
The Suez Canal Authority said in a statement on Thursday that it has officially suspended shipping while efforts to revive the ship continue, further straining global supply chains already disrupted by the Coronavirus pandemic.
While traffic remains suspended, the operators of ships in the canal are weighing whether to continue to wait for the ship to be liberated or to take the risk of a costly alternative route, such as .B around Africa.
Some experts estimate that the congestion, which hinders the transportation of food, oil, and consumer goods, costs up to 10 billion dollars a day.
The traffic jam is also causing war-torn Syria to ration fuel. The blockade has “hindered oil supplies to Syria and delayed the arrival of a tanker carrying oil and oil derivatives,” the country’s Ministry of Petroleum and Natural Resources said in a statement to state news agency SANA on Saturday.
Officials said they would ration the distribution to ensure the supply of facilities such as hospitals, water stations and communication centers.
Consumers could feel the effects of the blockade “pretty soon,” as some of the stranded ships reportedly transport goods to e-commerce retailers like Amazon, which could start to get short on certain items, Christopher Rogers, a utility analyst at S&P Global Market Intelligence, told NPR’s Weekend Edition.
There could also be a “take-away effect,” he said, as many companies set up their supply chains for summer production of goods that consumers will buy in the next holiday season. Rogers said that once the ship is released, there will be many longer-term issues for the industry to address how and under what conditions the canal can be used.
“The Suez Canal Authority, shipping companies and supply chain decision makers, who rely on the goods being brought where they are needed at the right time, will have to learn a lot of lessons,” he said.
To get the Ever Given back on track, tugboats have to free the ship while dredging removes the sand and mud around the ship’s bow. A special suction excavator that can move 2,000 cubic meters of material per hour arrived on Thursday to support the work.
The salvage crews made “significant progress” on Friday night when they freed the ship’s stern from the sediment and uncovered the rudder, according to Bernhard Schulte Shipmanagement, the technical director of Ever Given.
Eleven tugboats joined the resuscitation mission on Saturday and worked parallel to the dredging work until just before midnight.
Those efforts managed to move the ship by 29 feet, or nearly 100 feet, Inchcape Shipping Services said in a tweet. A video posted on social media by eyewitnesses shows people cheering.
The excavators have so far been able to move 27,000 cubic meters of sand – up to a depth of 18 meters, or nearly 60 feet – Reuters reported, citing the Suez Canal Authority.
“There are positive indicators from yesterday and the day before yesterday,” Rabie told Egyptian state television, according to Reuters. “The rudder didn’t move, and now it’s moving. The propeller now works. There was no water under the bow, and now there is water under it. And yesterday there was a 4-metre deviation between the bow and the stern.”
Meanwhile, the 25 crew members on board, all Indian nationals, were safe on Saturday and were in “good health and mood,” according to Bernhard Schulte Shipmanagement.
“They are working closely with all parties involved to get the ship back on its way,” Bernhard Schulte Shipmanagement said in a statement. “The hard work and tireless professionalism of the captain and crew is greatly appreciated.”
The United States has offered assistance to the Egyptian authorities to help reopen the canal, White House press secretary Jen Psaki said in a briefing on Friday.
“We are consulting with our Egyptian partners on how best to support their efforts,” she said.
The U.S. Navy has also offered assistance, according to CNN.
The Suez Canal Authority issued a statement on Friday thanking the international offers of assistance.
“The Suez Canal Authority … “The United States of America appreciates the offer to contribute to these efforts and looks forward to working with the United States in this regard in recognition of this good initiative, which confirms the friendly relations and cooperation between the two countries,” the statement said.