THE cargo ship stranded in the Suez Canal could finally be freed today as emergency crews prepare to offload containers from the massive vessel.
The Panama-flagged Ever Given smashed into the banks of the world-famous waterway six days ago totally blocking off the key global trade route.
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Two additional tugboats were called to the scene earlier today to aid ongoing efforts to free the skyscraper-sized container ship.
The 200,000-tonne Japanese vessel, which carries cargo between Asia and Europe, became stuck in a single-lane stretch of the canal on Tuesday.
Since then, the Egyptian authorities have been unable to shift it and traffic through the canal – valued at over £6.5 billion a day – has been brought to a grinding halt
The Dutch-flagged Alp Guard and the Italian-flagged Carlo Magno, called in to work alongside tugboats already on scene, reached the Red Sea near the city of Suez earlier today.
They will now help nudge the 400-meter-long Ever Given as dredgers continue to vacuum up sand from underneath the vessel and mud caked to its port side.
Workers plan to make two attempts today to free the vessel coinciding with high tides, a top pilot with the canal authority revealed.
“Sunday is very critical,” the unnamed pilot said. “It will determine the next step, which highly likely involves at least the partial offloading of the vessel.
“Taking containers off the ship likely would add even more days to the canal’s closure, something authorities have been desperately trying to avoid.
“It also would require a crane and other equipment that have yet to arrive.”
The pilot spoke to The Associated Press on condition of anonymity as he wasn’t authorized to brief journalists.
Peter Berdowski – the CEO of Boskalis, the company hired to extract the boat – earlier said that he hoped to have the container ship salvaged within days.
He said: “The combination of the (tug) boats we will have there, more ground dredged away and the high tide, we hope that will be enough to get the ship free somewhere early next week.”
He added that if that didn’t work, hundreds of containers would be removed from the ship by a crane to make it lighter.
On Saturday, the head of the Suez Canal Authority said strong winds were not the only cause for the Ever Given running aground, appearing to push back against conflicting assessments offered by others.
Lt. Gen. Osama Rabei said an investigation was ongoing but did not rule out human or technical error.
Bernhard Schulte Shipmanagement maintains – which managed the stricken vessel – that its initial investigations rule out any mechanical or engine failure as a cause of the grounding.
However, at least one initial report suggested a blackout struck the hulking vessel carrying some 20,000 containers at the time of the incident.
Rabei said he remained hopeful that dredging could free the ship without having to resort to removing its cargo, but added that we are in a difficult situation, its a bad incident.
Asked about when they expected to free the vessel and reopen the canal, he said: “I cant say because I do not know.”
Shoei Kisen Kaisha Ltd., the company that owns the vessel, said it was considering removing containers if other refloating efforts failed.
The Ever Given is wedged about 3.7 miles north of the canal’s Red Sea entrance near the city of Suez.
A prolonged closure of the crucial waterway would cause delays in the global shipment chain.
Some 19,000 vessels passed through the canal last year, according to official figures. About 10 per cent of world trade flows through the canal.
The closure could affect oil and gas shipments to Europe from the Middle East.
Already, Syria has begun rationing the distribution of fuel in the war-torn country amid concerns of delays of shipments arriving amid the blockage.
More than 320 ships are waiting to travel through the waterway, either to the Mediterranean or the Red Sea.
Dozens of others still listed their destination as the canal, although shippers increasingly appear to be avoiding the passage.
Meanwhile, 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,” President Joe Biden said on Friday.
The vessel’s Japanese owner, Yukito Higaki, president of Shoei Kisen, told a news conference that 10 tugboats had been deployed to dredge the banks and canal bottom.
A video from Vessel Finder recreating the crash by using the ship’s onboard tracker shows the moment it veered to port – before suddenly going hard to starboard and hitting the banks.
Crews need to excavate a 50-to-60ft chasm beneath the grounded bow and stern of the stranded 400m vessel.
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By last night 17,000 cubic metres of sand had been moved and work was said to be 87 per cent complete.
Shipping companies, desperate to keep goods moving, on Friday began rerouting some vessels on a costly, 5,000-mile, 14-day detour around South Africa’s Cape of Good Hope.