The crisis in the Suez Canal stretched into day six Sunday with little hope that a massive, grounded ship blocking transit through the vital passage will be moved soon.
Eleven tugs worked all day and night Saturday alongside the ongoing dredging operations that are removing sand and mud from around the Ever Given, one of the world’s largest cargo ships, according to the ship’s technical manager, Bernhard Schulte Shipmanagement (BSM).
Two more tugs joined the effort Sunday. The Ever Given, 200,000 metric tons and nearly a quarter-mile long, got stuck Tuesday in a narrow section of the canal – about 985 feet wide – near the Egyptian city of Suez.
Authorities canceled Sunday’s planned freeing attempts “until sufficient tug power is in place,” said canal services firm Leth Agencies. They plan to conduct an effort to free the vessel Monday to coincide with high tides, it said.
Workers had been trying to take advantage of high tides helped by a full moon Sunday night, a pilot with the Suez Canal Authority told The Associated Press. The full moon offers a spring tide, or king tide, in which high tides are higher and the low tides are lower because of the effects of gravity during a straight-line alignment of the Earth, the moon and the sun.
“Sunday is very critical,” said the pilot, who spoke on condition of anonymity since he wasn’t authorized to brief journalists. “It will determine the next step, which highly likely involves at least the partial offloading of the vessel.”
Removing some or all of the cargo could add days to the effort to clear the Japanese-owned ship from the canal. Hundreds of ships await passage.
The canal is operated by Egypt through its state-owned Suez Canal Authority. The 120-mile-long shipping link between the Mediterranean and Red seas carries about 13% of world trade, estimates German insurer Allianz.
“We calculate that each day of immobilization could cost global trade $6 billion to $10 billion,” Allianz said in a statement.
In the U.S., the blockage could worsen months long snarls in the global supply chain, causing shortages of products such as toilet paper, coffee and furniture in the U.S.
A prolonged closure could also push energy prices higher – almost 2 million barrels of oil pass through the canal daily. The closure could affect oil and gas shipments heading north to Europe and elsewhere from the Middle East. Syria has begun rationing fuel amid concerns of delays of shipments.
Some shipping companies are redirecting vessels all the way around Africa, thinking it will be faster than waiting what could be several more days to see the canal reopened – and then several more days for the backlog of ships to move through it.
The Ever Given, as long as a toppled skyscraper, was sailing north through the canal en route to Rotterdam, Netherlands with two canal pilots on board when it became stuck in the mud.
BSM said its initial investigations rule out any mechanical or engine failure. Canal authorities say they have not ruled those possibilities out, adding that high winds in a sandstorm ultimately pushed the ship sideways. The bow is aground on the canal’s eastern bank and the stern is on the western bank. The result has been a traffic jam of more than 320 ships.
No one was injured in the grounding and the crew was removed from the ship.
“Once re-floated, the vessel will undergo a full inspection and BSM will cooperate fully with the authorities in any investigations,” the company said.
Contributing: Paul Davidson, George Petras and Stephen J. Beard, USA TODAY; The Associated Press