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Giant container ship stuck is causing traffic jam on Suez Canal

March 27, 2021 | 16:02

Dozens of vessels are stuck, waiting for specialist salvage companies to free the 224,000-ton vessel blocking Suez Canal, world's busiest waterway. Experts have warned the process could take weeks.

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A tugboat tries to help the Ever Given on Friday. Photo: CNN

The Suez Canal is standing blocked by a large container ship in Cairo, Egypt, on Tuesday, March 24, 2021, reported BBC.

The ship, a vessel named the Ever Given, ran aground after strong winds and a sandstorm caused low visibility and poor navigation, the Suez Canal Authority said in a statement. The ship was en route to the Dutch point of Rotterdam when it was knocked off course.

At 400 meters (1,312 feet) long and 59 meters (193 feet) wide, the ship has blocked the path of other vessels which are now trapped in lines in both directions.

Meanwhile, at least 160 ships carrying vital fuel and cargo are waiting to pass through the blocked waterway, according to a senior canal pilot at Suez Canal Authority.

Joe Reynolds, the chief engineer of the Maersk Ohio, told that the number of vessels waiting at the canal's southern entrance was "growing exponentially".

"It's going to affect shipping schedules around the world," he warned.

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Ships wait in Egypt's Great Bitter Lake. Photo: CNN

Egypt has reopened the canal's older channel to divert some traffic until the grounded ship can move again. An alternative route, around the Cape of Good Hope on the southern tip of Africa, can take two weeks longer.

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Photo: BCC

Dislodging the vessel could take "days to weeks, depending on what you come across," according to Peter Berdowski the CEO of Boskalis, whose sister company SMIT salvage is now working to free the ship.

Berdowski told Dutch TV on Wednesday that his company had determined it was impossible to free the ship with its current cargo on board. "The ship with the weight that it [has] now has is impossible to pull," he said. "You can forget about that."

Rescue teams working to dislodge the giant container ship blocking the Suez Canal have failed in another bid to free the boat on the next day, reported CNN.

"Another attempt to re-float the vessel earlier today ... was not successful," Bernhard Schulte Shipmanagement (BSM) said in a statement, adding that more equipment is expected to be brought in to assist further efforts.

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An excavator is used to try to free Ever Given's front end. Photo: CNN

"The focus is now on dredging to remove sand and mud from around the port side of the vessel's bow," BSM said, adding that a special suction dredger will be used to move 2,000 cubic meters of sand and mud around the ship every hour.

High-capacity pumps may also be used to reduce water levels around parts of the 224,000-ton ship.

Up to 20,000 cubic meters (706,000 cubic feet) of sand in the canal need to be removed to free the gigantic container ship, according to the canal authorities.

Dredgers are hard at work removing sand and mud from the bow of the ship -- and they will need to move between 15,000 to 20,000 cubic meters (530,000 to 706,000 cubic feet) of sand in order to reach a depth of 12 to 16 meters (39 to 52 feet), which could allow the ship to float, SCA said on Thursday. That's approximately eight times the size of an Olympic swimming pool.

The US Navy in the Middle East plans to send an assessment team of dredging experts to the site as soon as Saturday, according to two defense officials.

The move comes after the Egyptian government agreed to accept an offer of help relayed through the US Embassy in Cairo.

"The Biden administration is tracking the situation closely," a US official said on Friday.

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This satellite image shows the blocked canal on Thursday. Photo: CNN

About 12% of global trade passes through the Suez Canal, which connects the Mediterranean to the Red Sea and provides the shortest sea link between Asia and Europe. The blockage sent oil prices climbing on international markets.

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