Two tugboats head to Egypt’s Suez Canal as shippers avoid it


SUEZ, Egypt (AP) – Two more tugboats headed to Egypt’s Suez Canal Sunday to aid efforts to free a skyscraper-sized container ship trapped for days in the crucial waterway, even as major shippers divert more and more their ships for fear that the ship will take even longer to release.

The massive Ever Given, a Japanese-owned Panama-flagged ship that carries cargo between Asia and Europe, got stuck Tuesday on a single-lane stretch of the canal. Since then, authorities have been unable to remove the ship and traffic through the canal, valued at more than $ 9 billion a day, has come to a halt, further disrupting a global transportation network already strained by the coronavirus pandemic.

The Dutch-flagged Alp Guard and Italian-flagged Carlo Magno, called to help the tugs already there, reached the Red Sea near the city of Suez early Sunday morning, MarineTraffic satellite data showed. com. The tugs will push the 400-meter-long (a quarter-mile long) Ever Given while the dredgers continue to suck up sand from under the ship and caked mud on the port side, said Bernhard Schulte Shipmanagement, who manages Ever Given. .

Workers planned to make two attempts on Sunday to free the vessel to coincide with high tides, a senior pilot with the canal authority said.

“Sunday is very critical,” said the pilot. “It will determine the next step, which will most likely involve at least partial unloading of the ship.”

Removing the containers from the ship would likely add even more days to the canal’s closure, something authorities have been desperately trying to avoid. It would also require a crane and other equipment that has not yet arrived.

The pilot spoke to The Associated Press on condition of anonymity, as he was not authorized to inform reporters.

On Saturday, the head of the Suez Canal Authority told reporters that strong winds “were not the only cause” of the Ever Given grounding, which appeared to reject conflicting assessments offered by others. Lieutenant General Osama Rabei said an investigation was underway but did not rule out human or technical error.

Bernhard Schulte Shipmanagement maintains that their “initial investigations rule out any mechanical or motor failure as the cause of the ground connection.” However, at least one initial report suggested that a “blackout” struck the huge ship carrying some 20,000 containers at the time of the incident.

Rabei said he was hopeful that the dredging could free the ship without resorting to removing its cargo, but added that “we are in a difficult situation, it is a bad incident.”

Asked when they expected to release the ship and reopen the canal, he said: “I can’t say because I don’t know.”

Speaking to pro-government Egyptian television channel Extra News on Sunday, Rabei said Egyptian President Abdel Fattah el-Sissi had directed the channel’s authority to prepare for all options, including removing containers from the ship. He said officials had been in talks with the United States about that possibility, without elaborating.

Shoei Kisen Kaisha Ltd., the company that owns the ship, said it was considering removing the containers if other refloating efforts failed.

The Ever Given is located about 6 kilometers (3.7 miles) north of the canal entrance to the Red Sea, near the city of Suez.

A prolonged closure of the crucial waterway would cause delays in the global shipping chain. Some 19,000 vessels passed through the canal last year, according to official figures. About 10% of world trade flows through the canal. The shutdown could affect oil and gas shipments to Europe from the Middle East. Syria has already started rationing fuel distribution in the war-torn country. amid concerns about delays in shipments arriving amid the lockdown.

As of early Sunday morning, more than 320 ships were waiting to travel through the Suez, either to the Mediterranean or the Red Sea, according to canal services firm Leth Agencies. Dozens of others still indicated their destination as the canal, though porters appear to be increasingly avoiding the pass.

The world’s largest shipping company, Danish AP Moller-Maersk, warned its customers that it would take three to six days to clear the backlog of vessels in the canal. The firm and its partners already have 22 ships waiting there.

“The current number (of) redirected Maersk and partner vessels is 14 and is expected to increase as we assess salvage efforts alongside the network capacity and fuel on our vessels currently en route to Suez,” the sender said.

Mediterranean Shipping Co., the world’s second-largest, said it had already diverted at least 11 ships around Africa’s Cape of Good Hope to avoid the canal. He pushed back two other boats and said he expected “some lost trips as a result of this incident.”

“MSC expects this incident to have a very significant impact on the movement of containerized goods, disrupting supply chains beyond the existing challenges posed by the COVID-19 pandemic,” he said.

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Gambrell reported from Dubai, United Arab Emirates. Associated Press writers Isabel DeBre and Malak Harb in Dubai contributed to this report.

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