Containers could be taken off stranded Suez ship, officials say as salvage efforts continue

Containers could be removed in a bid to free the skyscraper-size cargo ship that has been blocking Egypt’s Suez Canal since Tuesday, the head of the canal authority said Sunday.

Lt. Gen. Osama Rabie told Egyptian television channel Extra News the country’s President Abdel Fattah el-Sissi had ordered the Suez Canal Authority (SCA) to prepare for all options, including taking some of the 18,300 containers off the 1300-foot long Ever Given, according to the Associated Press. Without elaborating, he added that officials had been in talks with the U.S. about the possibility of removing some of the cargo.

Dredgers working to dislodge the stranded vessel have so far shifted 27,000 tonnes of sand to a depth of 60 feet, Rabie said in a separate statement Sunday.

An aerial view taken on Saturday from a commercial plane shows stranded ships waiting in queue in the Gulf of Suez to cross the Suez Canal at its southern entrance.MAHMOUD KHALED / AFP – Getty Images

Simultaneously, 12 tug boats performed pulling maneuvers from three different directions Saturday to unlodge the ship, he said. Two additional tugboats have been added to the mission Sunday.

Efforts would continue “around the clock” according to wind conditions and tides, he said.

The ship’s technical manager, Bernhard Schulte Shipmanagement (BSM), said Saturday that the ship’s rudder was released from sediment at the stern of the ship the day before.

The Ever Given became jammed diagonally across a southern section of the Suez Canal on Tuesday, leaving more than 300 ships, including dozens of container ships and bulk carriers, unable to use the key trading route.

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

The Panama-flagged, Japanese-owned ship that carries cargo between Asia and Europe halted all traffic across the canal, and experts say it could take weeks to free the stranded ship and for the blockage to be cleared.

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, the Associated Press reported.

Shipping rates for oil product tankers nearly doubled after the ship became stranded, Reuters reported, and the blockage has disrupted global supply chains, already strained by with Covid-19 restrictions.

If the blockage drags on, shippers may decide to reroute their cargoes around the Cape of Good Hope, adding about two weeks to journeys and extra fuel costs.

Egyptian Prime Minister Mostafa Madbouly on Saturday thanked foreign partners for offers to help refloat the ship. The U.S. military has accepted a request for assistance to free the stuck ship.

BSM, the ship’s manager, said Saturday Ever Given, which was en route to the Netherlands, had two canal pilots on board at the time of the incident. The ship’s 25 crew members, all Indian nationals, are safe and remain on board, the company said.

It said the initial investigation suggests that the vessel ran aground due to strong wind, not engine failure, and there have been no reports of pollution or cargo damage.

However, Rabie said Saturday that an investigation was ongoing and he did not rule out human or technical error.

Reuters and The Associated Press contributed to this report.

Charlene Gubash contributed.