Suez Canal: Wedged container ship 'could soon be refloated'

Image source, EPA
Image caption,
The ship's Japanese owners said tugboats and dredgers were working to free the ship

The large container ship trapped in the Suez Canal could be dislodged as soon as Saturday, the vessel's Japanese owners have said.

Yukito Higaki, president of Shoei Kisen, told a news conference on Friday that 10 tugboats had been deployed to dredge the banks and canal bottom.

The US has also offered to send help, including a team of US Navy experts.

The Ever Given became wedged in the canal on Tuesday, forcing companies to reroute ships around Africa.

The blockage has also caused a huge traffic jam of more than 200 ships in the Red Sea.

Mr Higaki told a press conference in the western Japanese city of Imabari that they were "continuing work to remove sediment as of now, with additional dredging tools".

He added that crews were hoping to dislodge the ship as early as Saturday evening Tokyo time, the Asahi Shimbun newspaper reported.

Image source, Maxar Technologies
Image caption,
The Ever Given is almost as long as Manhattan's Empire State Building is high

"The ship is not taking water," he said. "There is no problem with its rudders and propellers. Once it refloats, it should be able to operate.

"We are continuing work to remove sediment as of now, with additional dredging tools."

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

A specialised suction dredger, which can shift 2,000 cubic metres (70,000 cubic feet) of material every hour, arrived on site on Thursday, it added.

White House spokeswoman Jen Psaki also said the US had offered assistance to get the Suez Canal reopened, and that they were "tracking the situation very closely".

Joe Reynolds, chief engineer of the Maersk Ohio, told the BBC on Friday that the number of vessels waiting at the canal's southern entrance was "growing exponentially".

"It's going to affect shipping schedules around the world," he warned.

The 400m-long (1,300ft), 200,000-tonne vessel ran aground on Tuesday morning in high winds and a sandstorm that affected visibility.

Specialist salvage companies have been brought in to help refloat the ship, and an adviser to Egypt's president had said he hoped the situation would be resolved within two to three days. But experts have said it could take weeks if the vessel's containers need to be removed.

About 12% of global trade passes through the 193km (120-mile) canal, which connects the Mediterranean Sea to the Red Sea and provides the shortest sea link between Asia and Europe.

An alternative route, around the Cape of Good Hope on the southern tip of Africa, can take two weeks longer.

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John Denholm, president of the UK Chamber of Shipping, told the BBC that if the diggers and tugs were not successful, salvage teams would have to start the slow process of "lightering" the ship - transferring its cargo to another vessel or the canal bank.

That would involve bringing in specialist equipment, including a crane that would need to stretch more than 60m (200ft) high, he said.

"If we go through the lightering process, I suspect we're talking weeks."

Service provider Leth Agencies said a total of 237 vessels were waiting in the area on Friday - 107 at Port Suez in the Red Sea, 41 at the canal's midway point in the Great Bitter Lake, and 89 at Port Said in the Mediterranean.

The blockage is holding up an estimated $9.6bn (£7bn) of goods each day - or $400m an hour - according to data from Lloyd's List.

Media caption,
A salvage company, working to free the Ever Given, says the operation could take weeks

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