The Japanese company that owns the cargo ship that is blocking the Suez Canal in Egypt this Tuesday (23/3), apologized on Thursday for the disruptions it has caused in global maritime trade.
400 meters long (almost the height of the Empire State building) and weighing 200 thousand tons, the Ever Given ship was stranded diagonally in the canal, amidst a sandstorm and strong winds.
The incident caused a huge traffic jam: a line of more than 150 ships formed waiting to pass through Suez, where about 12% of global trade transits – since the channel connects the Mediterranean Sea to the Red Sea and offers shortest route between Asia and Europe.
An alternative route through the Cape of Good Hope in southern Africa adds two weeks to travel between the two continents.
Shoei Kisen Kaisha, the owner of Ever Given, said it was trying to resolve the situation as quickly as possible, but added that removing the ship has proved “extremely difficult”.
Maritime and rescue engineers tried again to detach the vessel – operated by the Taiwanese company Evergreen Marine and which was making the route from China to the Netherlands – on Thursday, but the initiative failed.
“In cooperation with local authorities and the ship management company Bernhard Schulte Shipmanagement, we are trying to get off the ground (Ever Given), but we are facing extreme difficulties,” Shoei Kisen Kaisha said in a statement.
“We sincerely apologize for causing so much concern to ships in the Suez Canal and to those trying to pass through there.”
Industry sources told Reuters that even if Ever Given went down quickly, its owner and insurers would still face multimillion-dollar lawsuits for the delays caused and extra costs incurred by other companies. They also said that the effort to normalize traffic on the site could take weeks.
Toshiaki Fujiwara, representative of Shoei Kisen Kaisha, told the France Presse agency that the ship has insurance coverage, but that, at the moment, there is still no way to estimate the costs involved in the process.
A fleet of tugs and dredges returned to work on this farm (after stopping work on Wednesday night) to try to clear the mud and sand that left the ship stranded.
Late in the morning, Bernhard Schulte Shipmanagement said in a statement that a failed debunking attempt at 8 am local time had failed, but that further attempts would occur.
“It is like a huge whale stranded in the sand. It has a huge weight on the sand,” Peter Berdowski, president of one of the companies that are assisting the stripping efforts, told Dutch TV.
“We may have to work with a combination of weight reduction – removing containers, fuel and water from the ship – with tugs and dredgers.”
The suspension of navigation by Suez created an atmosphere of uncertainty and tension among Egyptian authorities, explains Sally Nabil, a BBC News reporter in Ismailia, Egypt. This is because the channel is a strategic asset for the country and an indispensable source of resources. In 2020 alone, 19,000 ships passed through there, according to the Suez Canal Authority – an average of 51.5 per day.
One possibility is that if the tide in the channel gets higher next week, efforts to clear the channel may become easier, but it will still be a laborious operation.
Regarding the causes of the incident, Evergreen Marine said that the main suspicion is that the ship “was hit by a strong wind, which caused the hull to deviate from the flow of water”. And Bernhard Schulte Shipmanagement said preliminary investigations have ruled out mechanical failures so far.
According to the owner of the vessel, the 25 crew members, all of Indian nationality, are safe, and there was no oil spill.
One company estimated that there were 156 boats in the canal queue on Thursday, ranging from cargo ships to oil tankers.