International efforts to dislodge the skyscraper-sized freighter blocking Egypt’s Suez Canal intensified but made little progress on Thursday as maritime traffic wreaked havoc on world trade.
Egyptian authorities said shipping was still “temporarily suspended” after the container got stuck laterally in the canal due to a heavy dust storm and poor visibility.
That meant that traffic remained stalled on a route that accounts for roughly 12 percent of world trade when the shipping saga passed the 48-hour mark.
A fleet of eight large tugs was dispatched to refloat the stuck container ship, the Suez Canal Authority said in a statement Thursday.
Taiwanese shipping company Evergreen, which operates the stranded tanker, announced that two professional rescue teams from Japan and the Netherlands were helping Egyptian authorities create a “more effective plan.”
Meanwhile, the ship’s technical manager, Bernhard Schulte Shipmanagement, said he had “stepped up efforts” to refloat the ship by sending “specialized suction dredgers” to the site after a failed attempt this morning.
“Another attempt will be made later today,” the statement added.
But experts said the frantic floatation efforts could take longer than many would expect.
Peter Berdowski, CEO of the Dutch company Boskalis, one of the maritime service providers currently trying to free the ship, said the rescue mission was far from easy.
“It is like a huge beached whale. It is a huge weight in the sand, “he told Dutch television.
“We may have to work with a combination of weight reduction by removing containers, oil and water from the ship, tugboats and sand dredging.”
“We cannot exclude that it could take weeks, depending on the situation,” he added.
“We have already seen an increase in the price of oil because of the tankers that are anchored in the Red Sea,” Laleh Khalili, professor of international politics at Queen Mary University of London, told NBC News.
Even when rescue efforts are successful, “the build-up of ships could take a week or so to clear,” he added.
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At least 150 other tankers have been waiting to pass through the narrow channel since the 400-meter-long Ever Given ship stuck laterally Tuesday morning, grounded after 30-knot wind gusts caused the ship to veer off. of your course.
The Suez Canal generally allows 50 freighters to pass daily between the Mediterranean and the Red Sea, providing a vital trade corridor between Europe and Asia.
Photos released by Suez authorities showed a bulldozer removing dirt and rocks from the canal bank and around the bow of the ship.
“They would try to remove anything that is easy to remove, but the place where they are stuck is not near a port, it is actually quite far from anything,” said Professor Jasper Graham-Jones, a marine mechanical engineer at the University of Plymouth. . he told Sky News.
“This is where the clear choice is lots, lots of tugs and digging around the sides.”
(Sky News is owned by Comcast, the parent company of NBC News.)
Evergreen said it has “urged the shipowner to investigate” the source of the accident.
The ship’s owners apologized Thursday for the disruption to maritime traffic.
“We sincerely regret that this accident has caused great concern to ships sailing or scheduled to sail in the Suez Canal,” said Japanese company Shoei Kisen Kaisha Ltd.
Nearly 19,000 ships with a net tonnage of 1.17 billion metric tons passed through the canal last year, according to the Suez Canal Authority.
Traffic jams are rare. In 2017, a Japanese container ship blocked the canal, but the Egyptian authorities refloated the ship in a matter of hours.
“In the long term, this delay may force a reconsideration of the size of the ships,” said Khalili of Queen Mary University. “And if there are issues associated with who will take responsibility for the accident … that may force a reckoning in the shipping ownership structures.”
Suez is still remembered for being at the heart of an international crisis in 1956 after Egyptian President Gamal Abdel Nassar nationalized the former British and French-owned canal. The move led to an invasion that resulted in the humiliation of the Western European powers.
Charlene Gubash and Olivier Fabre contributed.