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Plan made to use tide to refloat ship blocking Suez Canal

The Japanese company that owns the giant container ship stuck sideways across Egypt’s Suez Canal said an attempt will be made to refloat the vessel by taking advantage of tidal movements on Saturday, as the crisis forced companies to reroute 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 span of the canal – about 6km (3.7 miles) north of the southern entrance near the city of Suez – since Tuesday. It is still blocking the waterway in both directions.

At a press conference in Japan on Friday the president of Shoei Kisen – which owns the ship – told local media there were no signs of damage to its engines and various instruments.

“The ship is not taking water. There is no problem with its rudders and propellers. Once it refloats, it should be able to operate,” Yukito Higaki said in the western Japanese city of Imabari, according to the Asahi Shimbun.

Work crews were hoping to remove the ship as early as Saturday evening Tokyo time, he said, by taking advantage of tidal movements.

“We are continuing work to remove sediment as of now, with additional dredging tools,” he added, according to the Nikkei Asia.

“We apologise for blocking the traffic and causing the tremendous trouble and worry to many people, including the involved parties.”

‘Complex’ operation

Egypt’s Suez Canal Authority said the Ever Given veered off course and ran aground on Tuesday when strong winds whipped up a sandstorm that affected visibility.

The blockage has caused a huge traffic jam for more than 200 ships at both ends of the 193km (120-mile) long canal and major delays in the delivery of oil and other products.

Shoei Kisen said in a statement on Saturday that the company has considered removing its containers to get the weight off the vessel, but that it would be a very difficult operation. The company said it may still consider that option if the continuing refloating efforts fail.

“It’s a complex technical operation” that will require several attempts to free the vessel, Lieutenant General Osama Rabie, head of the Suez Canal Authority, said in a statement.

Bernhard Schulte Shipmanagement (BSM), the ship’s technical manager firm, said on Friday that an attempt to refloat the vessel had failed.

“The focus is now on dredging to remove sand and mud from around the port side of the vessel’s bow,” BSM said.

Smit Salvage, a Dutch firm that has worked on some of the most famous wrecks of recent years, confirmed there would be “two additional tugs” arriving by Sunday to assist, it added.

There had been “no reports of pollution or cargo damage and initial investigations rule out any mechanical or engine failure as a cause of the grounding”.

Crews had been seen working through the night, using a large dredging machine under floodlights.

But the vessel with gross tonnage of 219,000 and deadweight of 199,000 has yet to budge.

The Suez Canal Authority has said it welcomes international assistance. The White House said it has offered to help Egypt reopen the canal. “We have equipment and capacity that most countries don’t have and we’re seeing what we can do and what help we can be,” US President Joe Biden told reporters.

The Egyptian government has agreed to “an offer of help”, CNN reported on Friday, adding that the US Navy in the region plans to send “an assessment team of dredging experts to the Suez Canal as soon as Saturday”.

‘Far longer route’

“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, noting that the route can take up to an additional 12 days.

About 10 percent of world trade flows through the canal, which is particularly crucial for transporting oil. The closure also could affect oil and gas shipments to Europe from the Middle East.

Oil markets are absorbing the disruption for now, analyst Toril Bosoni said.

“Oil inventories have been coming down but they are still relatively ample,” she told The Associated Press, adding that she believes the effect might be more pronounced in the tanker sector than in the oil industry.

“We are not losing any oil supply but it will tie up tankers for longer if they have to go around” the tip of Africa, she said.

Lloyd’s List said data indicated 213 vessels were now stalled at either end of the canal, which links the Mediterranean and the Red Sea.

The blockage was holding up an estimated $9.6bn worth of cargo each day between Asia and Europe, it said.

“Rough calculations suggest westbound traffic is worth around $5.1bn daily while eastbound traffic is worth $4.5bn.”

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