ISMAILIA, Egypt (Reuters) – Shipping was on the move again late on Monday in Egypt’s Suez Canal after tugs refloated a giant container ship which had been blocking the channel for almost a week, causing a huge build-up of vessels around the waterway.
With the 400-metre-long (430-yard) Ever Given dislodged, 113 ships were expected to transit the canal in both directions by early Tuesday morning, Suez Canal Authority (SCA) chairman Osama Rabie told reporters.
He said a backlog of 422 ships could be cleared in 3 -1/2 days.
The Ever Given had become jammed diagonally across a southern section of the canal, the shortest shipping route between Europe and Asia, in high winds early on March 23.
Evergreen Line, which is leasing the Ever Given, said the ship would be inspected for seaworthiness in the Great Bitter Lake, which separates two sections of the canal.
“The ship was ready for limited navigation after an initial inspection and not a single container was damaged, but a second investigation will be more precise and if it was affected it will show,” Rabie said.
At dawn on Monday, rescue workers from the SCA working with a team from Dutch firm Smit Salvage partially refloated the ship and straightened it in the canal. After several hours it shifted briefly back across the canal before being manoeuvred free by tugs as the tide changed, a canal source said.
“The time pressure to complete this operation was evident and unprecedented,” said Peter Berdowski, CEO of Smit Salvage owner Boskalis, after the Ever Given was refloated.
The company said approximately 30,000 cubic metres of sand had been dredged to refloat the 224,000-tonne container ship and a total of 11 tugs and two powerful sea tugs were used to pull the ship free.
Bernhard Schulte Shipmanagement (BSM), the technical managers of the container ship, said there were no reports of pollution or cargo damage.
Vessels waiting to transit the canal include dozens of container ships, bulk carriers, oil tankers and liquefied natural gas (LNG) or liquefied petroleum gas (LPG) vessels, Nile TV reported.
Rabie said that within four days, traffic would return to normal. “We’ll work day and night to end the backlog.”
Vessels similar in size to the Ever Given, which is one of the world’s largest container ships, could pass through the canal safely, he added, and the SCA would not change its policy on admitting such ships.
Shipping group Maersk said the knock-on disruptions to global shipping could take weeks or months to unravel.
Owners and charterers of delayed ships face at least $24 million in expenses they will be unable to recoup as their insurance policies do not cover them and cargo owners could also face uninsured losses, industry sources said.
For a graphic on Ever Given contained vessel refloated, but massive ship jam remains at Suez Canal:
Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi, who had not publicly commented on the blockage, said Egypt had ended the crisis and assured resumption of trade through the canal.
Oil prices fell 1 percent after the ship was refloated while shares of Taiwan-listed Evergreen Marine Corp rose.
About 15% of world shipping traffic transits the Suez Canal, which is an important source of foreign currency revenue for Egypt. The stoppage was costing the canal up to $15 million a day.
Shipping rates for oil product tankers nearly doubled after the ship became stranded, and the blockage has disrupted global supply chains, threatening costly delays for companies already dealing with COVID-19 restrictions.
Maersk was among shippers rerouting cargoes around the Cape of Good Hope, adding up to two weeks to journeys and extra fuel costs.
(Reporting by Yusri Mohamed, Nadine Awadalla and Aidan Lewis; Additional reporting by Omar Fahmy, Momen Saeed Atallah and Mahmoud Mourad in Cairo, Florence Tan in Singapore, Anthony Deutsch and Bart Meijer in Amsterdam and Akshay Lodaya; Writing by Lincoln Feast, Kirsten Donovan and Catherine Evans; Editing by Richard Pullin, Timothy Heritage, William Maclean, Catherine Evans and Gareth Jones)