Friday, September 17, 2021

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Egypt's president orders preparations for unloading the Ever Given blocking the Suez Canal


ISMAILIA, Egypt - Egyptian President Abdel Fatah al-Sissi ordered preparations to be made for the unloading of the Ever Given cargo carrier that is blocking the Suez Canal, the head of the canal authority said Sunday.

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Lt. Gen. Osama Rabie, chairman of the Suez Canal Authority, told Egyptian television that officials were preparing for the "third scenario" of unloading containers from the massive ship so that it can be refloated, opening up one of the world's busiest waterways. The canal has been blocked since Tuesday, leaving more than 300 ships waiting to pass through.

Unloading some of the 18,000 containers from the towering ship would require special equipment, so the president authorized its acquisition even as dredging continued, Rabie said. So far, 27,000 cubic feet of sand have been removed from around the vessel to a depth of 60 feet.

"His excellency has ordered that we should not wait for the failure of the first and second scenarios to start thinking about implementing the third one," he said, referring to unloading.

Earlier, there had been hopes that the vessel could be freed overnight with the high tide, but "the tidal (conditions) didn't help re-floating #EverGiven tonight," Leth Agencies, the canal's service provider, tweeted early Sunday morning, adding that "dredgers will continue their work, tugs will assist in new attempts."

The refloating process was delayed again Sunday afternoon, with the company saying another effort would take place at 10 p.m. local time, to make the most of "favorable tidal conditions."

The alignment of the full moon with Earth on Sunday night was expected to result in a king tide, or unusually high tide, that could help lift the ship.

Two more tugboats were dispatched to the scene, as well: the Italian-flagged Carlo Magno and the Dutch-flagged Alp Guard.

The 200,000-ton container ship, as long as the Empire State Building is tall, is costing billions of dollars in global trade every day. The fifth day of the salvage operation illustrated the technical and weather challenges facing the international team seeking to dislodge the Ever Given from the eastern bank of the canal and stave off a global economic calamity.

Syria announced Saturday that it has begun rationing oil supplies, in particular diesel and gasoline, because of the canal blockage.

The Danish shipping giant Maersk said Sunday that it is continuing efforts to mitigate the situation, adding that it has redirected 15 ships in a bid to keep cargo moving through the waterway.

"We have until now redirected 15 vessels where we deemed the delay of sailing around the Cape of Good Hope at the southern tip of Africa equal to the current delay of sailing to Suez and queuing," the statement said. The African route adds weeks to the trip.

The company said it would consider rerouting more vessels Monday after further analysis and flotation attempts.

The attempts to pull the vessel out of the sand and mud will be aided by the addition of two larger and heavier tug boats: the Netherlands-registered ALP Guard and the Italy-registered Carlo Magno. Both are scheduled to arrive in the canal on Sunday, according to Ever Given's technical manager, Bernhard Schulte Shipmanagement.

CNN reported Friday that a U.S. Navy team of dredging experts was expected to arrive as early as the weekend to assess the situation. As of Sunday, it was unclear whether any Navy personnel had reached the Suez or performed an assessment.

Bernhard Schulte Shipmanagement, which oversees the ship's crew and maintenance, said in a statement that the salvage efforts began again at 2 p.m. Saturday, after "significant progress" was made to free the vessel's rudder from the sand and mud. But by midnight, with at least 11 tugs on the job, it was clear that the dredging operations to remove thousands of tons of sediment around the port side of the vessel's bow would require more time and effort.

But as flotation attempts continued, industry experts weighed the idea that the saga of the wedged ship could have been preventable, given years of warnings that the size of vessels using the waterway was growing even as risk assessments failed to keep pace.

"This is a big ship and a big problem, but it is not like we have not seen this coming," said Lloyd's List editor Richard Meade on a recent podcast in which he discussed the issues that arise when vessels increase in size to keep up with economic demand but fail to contain the risk that coincides with making ships larger.

On Sunday, six more ships entered the canal, bringing the number of vessels trapped in the massive maritime congestion to 327, according to Leth Agencies.

In addition to the delays, shipping companies will face higher insurance costs. Only one in every 10 ships surrounding the stranded Ever Given has adequate insurance to cover mounting disruption costs, analysis from the Lloyd's List shipping journal indicated, leading to further concerns over the financial effect of the standstill which will probably affect different businesses in myriad ways.

According to the report, an estimated 90 percent of nearby ships will be unlikely to claim for "sizeable out-of-pocket expenses" incurred amid the chaos, which has forced hundreds to consider alternate routes, led to port and transit delays, and disrupted oil trade.

Experts have warned that unloading containers from the Ever Given to lighten the vessel could take days or even weeks, since doing so requires the use of extra-tall cranes and specialized helicopters. Such an effort would be extremely costly, and it's not clear who would shoulder the expense.

On Saturday, Egyptian Prime Minister Mostafa Madbouly expressed appreciation for the offer from foreign allies to help free the ship.

The salvage effort has truly become an international operation led by an Egyptian, Dutch and German team with tugs now from Italy and the Netherlands, mirroring the global shipping industry and the Ever Given itself. The ship is owned by a Japanese company and operated by a Taiwanese firm. Its crew is Indian and it sails under a Panamanian flag.

Published : March 29, 2021

By : The Washington Post · Sudarsan Raghavan, Jennifer Hassan