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March 29, 2021 9:45 AM, EDT

Cargo Ship Stuck in Suez Canal Finally Dislodged

Suez overheadMV Ever Given on March 28. (Planet Labs Inc. via AP)

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SUEZ, Egypt — Workers have successfully set free a colossal containership that for nearly a week has been stuck sideways across the Suez Canal, one of the world’s most crucial arteries for trade, a canal service provider said.

Leth Agencies said that the vessel had been refloated on March 29. Helped by the peak of high tide, a flotilla of tugboats managed to wrench the bow of the skyscraper-size Ever Given from the sandy back of the crucial waterway, where it had been lodged since March 23.

Tugboats were pulling the vessel toward the Great Bitter Lake, in the middle of the waterway, where it will undergo inspections.

On March 23, the 220,000-ton Ever Given got stuck sideways in the crucial waterway, creating a massive traffic jam. The obstruction has held up $9 billion each day in global trade and strained supply chains already burdened by the coronavirus pandemic. At least 367 vessels, carrying everything from crude oil to cattle, still were waiting to pass through the canal, while dozens were taking the lengthy alternate route around the Cape of Good Hope at Africa’s southern tip — a detour that costs ships hundreds of thousands of dollars in fuel and other costs.

With canal transits stopped, Egypt already has lost more than $95 million in revenue, according to data firm Refinitiv. Still, clearing the backlog of ships waiting to pass through the canal could take more than 10 days, Refinitiv added.

The freeing of the vessel came after intensive efforts to push and pull the vessel with 10 tugboats when the full moon brought spring tide, Leth Agencies said, raising the canal’s water level. Videos shared widely on social media showed tugboats in the canal sounding their horns in celebration.

Even as salvage work was ongoing, Egyptian President Abdel Fattah el-Sissi portrayed the development as a victory in his first comments on the stranded vessel.

“Egyptians have succeeded in ending the crisis,” he wrote on Facebook.

Ever Given

The Ever Given on March 29 before it was freed. (Mohamed Elshahed/AP)

The price of international benchmark Brent crude dropped some 2% to just over $63 on the news.

An Egyptian TV channel aired live footage of five tugboats with ropes around the ship’s bow, their engines churning, struggling to nudge it away from the shore. Weather forecasts showed strong winds, gusting up to 20 mph.

Shoei Kisen Kaisha Ltd., the vessel’s owner, said that the ship’s engine was functional and would head north. It wasn’t decided whether the Panama-flagged, Japanese-owned ship, would continue to its original destination of Rotterdam, Netherlands. or if it will need to enter another port for repairs, the Shoei official said. The vessel will undergo technical examination at Great Bitter Lake, a wide stretch of water halfway between the north and south end of the canal, according to canal authorities.

Ship operators did not offer a timeline for the reopening of the canal, which carries more than 10% of global trade, including 7% of the world’s oil. Millions of barrels of oil and liquefied natural gas flow through the artery from the Persian Gulf to Europe and North America.

The unprecedented shutdown had threatened to disrupt oil and gas shipments to Europe from the Middle East and raised fears of extended delays, good shortages and rising costs for consumers.

Canal authorities had desperately tried to free the vessel by relying on tugs and dredgers alone, even as analysts warned that 400-meter-long ship may be too heavy for such an operation. Fears had grown that authorities would be forced to lighten the vessel by removing the ship’s 20,000 containers — a complex operation, requiring specialized equipment not found in Egypt.

DeBre reported from Dubai, United Arab Emirates. Associated Press writers Mike Corder at The Hague, Netherlands; Mari Yamaguchi in Tokyo and Jon Gambrell in Dubai, United Arab Emirates, contributed to this report.

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