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Suez Canal ship flows are "cleared" after Ever Given cargo ship freed

April 04, 2021 | 12:20

On Saturday, the maritime traffic jam that was created by Ever Given carno ship blocking Suez Canal has been "cleared" and the ships flowed smoothly, according to Egyptian Authorities.

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Some 422 ships, which were visible from space, have now cleared the vital artery, with the final 61 vessels passing through the waterway on Saturday, the Suez Canal Authority said.

The backlog built up after the massive Ever Given ship grounded in the narrow canal on Mar. 23, generating global interest as refloating efforts stalled, and costing billions in held-up world trade. The ship was finally freed on Monday, according to CBS News.

"All waiting ships crossed the shipping course today," said Lt. Gen. Osama Rabie, chairman of the Suez Canal Authority, in a statement.

Suez Canal ship flows are "cleared"
Photo: AFP VIA GETTY IMAGES

He added that clearing the backlog was achieved in "record time."

The 1,400-foot-long Ever Given, a Panama-flagged container ship taller than the Eiffel Tower, jammed diagonally across a southern section of the Suez Canal, leaving many cargo ships and bulk carriers, unable to use the key trading route.

International supply chains were thrown into disarray when the boat ran aground, with specialist rescue teams taking almost a week to free her after extensive dredging and repeated tugging operations.

The marooned ship made global headlines and spawned social media memes, while bringing traffic to an abrupt standstill in the crucial east-west waterway for global shipping — a route that accounts for about 12 percent of world trade and is particularly important for transporting oil.

The canal authorities are under pressure to upgrade the waterway's technical infrastructure to avoid further disruption in the future.

They have said they will demand at least $1bn (£720m) in compensation for the losses resulting from the blockage.

Suez Canal ship flows are "cleared"
Drone footage of Ever Given cargo ship after being freed (Photo: CGTN)

In an interview with the privately-owned Sada el-Balad TV on Wednesday, SCA chairman Osama Rabie said that the Ever Given vessel would not leave the Great Bitter Lake, where it is currently being held, until the compensation was paid by the vessel's owner, BBC reported.

Mr Rabie also said that about 800 people had helped to free the ship, adding that they would be rewarded for their "great efforts".

The vessel's technical managers, Bernhard Schulte Shipmanagement, said on Monday that its initial investigations suggested it had veered off course due to strong wind. They also ruled out any mechanical or engine failure as a cause.

However, Mr Rabie believes the impact of the wind was not the main reason for the incident, and that "technical or human errors" may have been to blame.

"The Suez Canal has never been closed because of bad weather," he earlier told reporters.

He also denied size was a factor, saying larger ships had used the waterway.

The successful refloating was met with triumph and relief, as hundreds of vessels that have been trapped since last Tuesday prepare to restart their journeys.

Why is the Suez Canal so important?

The importance of the canal stems first and foremost from its location; it is the only place that directly connects the waters of Europe with the Arabian Sea, the Indian Ocean and the countries of the Asia-Pacific.

Without the Suez, shipments traveling between those parts of the world would have to traverse the entire continent of Africa, adding hefty costs and substantially extending their journey times, according to CNN.

Suez Canal ship flows are "cleared"
A cargo ship navigates in the Suez Canal, past the port authority building of Port Said, in 2008. The passageway hosts nearly 19,000 vessels each year. (Photo: CNN)

A solution to that problem appeared elusive for centuries, until the precious 120-mile waterway was constructed to slither down Egypt and into the Red Sea. It was built over the course of a decade in the mid-19th century -- a feat only possible because the Mediterranean and Red Seas were found to be roughly level in altitude.

The time saved by the passage is almost invaluable. Today, a ship traveling from a port in Italy to India, for instance, would cover around 4,400 nautical miles if it passed through the Suez Canal -- a journey that, at a speed of 20 knots, would take about nine days.

But the second-quickest way to complete that same journey would be via the Cape of Good Hope and around Africa. At the same speed, it would take three weeks to traverse the route, which is 10,500 nautical miles long.

Adding to its importance is that there are no alternatives to the Suez; were it not for the Red Sea stretching up above the Horn of Africa and along Sudan and Egypt, no land masses would be narrow enough to support an artificial waterway that links Europe with the Asia-Pacific.

The canal's strategically important position now means it hosts nearly 19,000 vessels each year, according to Lloyd's List, a shipping industry journal.

A passageway connecting the Mediterranean and Red Seas had been longed for by nation states for centuries, and the canal's importance was clear long before construction began.

Instigated by French interests and exploration, the Suez was built over the course of 10 years by local peasants drafted and forced into labor, and European workers who later joined the effort.

Financial troubles forced the Ottoman governor of Egypt to sell a controlling stake in the waterway to Britain in 1875; 13 years later, a multinational summit resulted in an agreement that the canal would be free for all countries to use, both in peace and war.

Its positioning made it a flashpoint in both of the 20th century's major conflicts; in World War I, Turkish forces tried to attack the canal from the east, and in World War II, the Nazis' Afrika Korps aimed to do the same from the west.

But the canal remained under British control until Egyptian President Gamal Abdel Nasser nationalized it in 1956, sparking the Suez Crisis that drew threats of invasion from Israel, France and Great Britain. The episode threatened to cause war, until pressure from the US and diplomatic efforts from the nascent United Nations forced a solution.

The Suez has been shut down before; for eight years from 1967 it became a border between a warring Egypt and Israel, a conflict that left more than a dozen ships -- known as the Yellow Fleet -- trapped in the canal for the duration.

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