/Suez Canal Container Ship Is Partially Freed

Suez Canal Container Ship Is Partially Freed

ISMAILIA, Egypt—The vast container ship that blocked the Suez Canal for six days has been freed and is moving north to an anchor point, opening the critical waterway, as hopes grow that global supply delays will begin to ease.

Engineers raced throughout Monday to finish the job of dislodging the Ever Given after partially refloating the ship at dawn, taking advantage of an unusually high tide to make the job easier.

Tugboats helped pull the vessel out from the side of the canal where it had been stuck, before straightening its heading. Egyptian television images showed tugboats blaring their horns, as they towed the Ever Given to safety. Once stabilized it was towed toward an anchor point at a lake further up the canal system, enabling ships already in the canal network to travel.

In the evening,

Osama Rabie,

chairman of the Suez Canal Authority, which runs the 120-mile shipping route, said it had been opened to hundreds of vessels that had been waiting to traverse.

Mr. Rabie said that clearing the backlog would take roughly three days, though some shipping industry veterans suggested it could be longer.

The 1,300-foot container ship that blocked the Suez Canal for six days has been freed and has begun to move north. Photo: Suez Canal Authority/Associated Press

Still, shipping firms, shipowners and management companies are girding for weeks of delays that could ripple far beyond European and Asian ports, which send the most goods through the canal.

Valid Diab,

general manager at Turkish company Observator Shipping Co., which is responsible for provisions and other shipping services for three ships caught in the jam, confirmed his vessels had started to move. Marine data tracker FleetMon showed that one of them, the Jeddah-bound Sea Star, which is loaded with cattle, started to move south.

Two container vessels in the Great Bitter Lake near the center of the canal network, the Jeddah-bound YM Wish, and the Ever Globe, a sister vessel to the Ever Given, also started moving, FleetMon tracking showed. The Ever Given itself was preparing to enter the Great Bitter Lake where it will anchor, MarineTraffic tracking showed.

Canal managers were giving priority to vessels carrying livestock because they were running out of animal feed, according to a person involved in the operation said. The canal was expected to be opened to other ships later Monday.

Shipping companies say it could take several days to clear the queue of ships now waiting to pass through, while many big lines have already rerouted vessels, in some cases around the southern tip of Africa, adding two weeks of sailing time and tens of thousands in cost per vessel.

A.P. Moller–Maersk A/S, the world’s largest container vessel operator, said Monday that the company and its partners had three ships backed up in the canal and 34 vessels at anchor waiting to enter it. The company already redirected 15 vessels around Africa. It said it could take six days or more for the complete queue of backlogged ships to pass through the canal.

“As the Ever Given has now been dislodged there is still uncertainty to passage clearance and the ripple effects of this incident,” Maersk said late Monday.

The backlog has created the potential for many ships, both those delayed at Suez and those redirecting around Africa, to hit their destination ports all at the same time. In Europe, the mass of ship arrivals “will be a huge handling challenge for container terminals” and for the “inland logistics system of barges, road, and rail,” said

Turloch Mooney,

an associate director for maritime and trade at consulting firm IHS Markit.

Maersk warned that in the short term there will be a brief period where European ports will see light volumes because of the delays. Then it forecasts a surge as delayed vessels arrive along with the regularly scheduled vessel calls.

“There will be a bit of upheaval in the scheduling,” said

Stefano Messina,

chairman of

Gruppo Messina,

a shipping company based in Genoa, one of Italy’s busiest ports.

Big Ships

The ship that held up Suez Canal traffic, the Ever Given, is one of the world’s biggest ships.

Deadweight*: 220,123 tons

HMM Algeciras 2020 (world’s largest ship)

Deadweight*: 220,462 tons

18 tractor trailers (72 feet)

NYK TRITON 2008

The largest ship through the Panama Canal

Egyptian President

Abdel Fattah Al Sisi

cast the operation as a national triumph in remarks he posted to

Twitter

earlier Monday.

“Today, Egyptians have proven that they are always responsible, and that the canal their ancestors died for, and which their fathers defended with their lives, bears witness to how Egyptians always decide their fate according to their will,” he said.

A person involved in the effort said a large rock formation in the side of the canal that had been wedging the bow in place was broken up, helping to break the Ever Given free. Hundreds of thousands of cubic feet of sand were removed over the course of the effort.

A video taken near the scene appeared to show workers cheering “Allahu akbar,” or God is the greatest, as the ship began to break free at dawn.

Over 360 vessels are waiting to pass through the canal, blocked since the Ever Given veered into its east side during stormy weather last Tuesday. Some of the ships caught behind in the canal were alerted that they could soon be moving.

“There is a lot of talk on the radio that we will start moving today and we should get ready,” said Angelino Cruz, a radio operator aboard a European-operated crude tanker, which is in line behind the Ever Given.

Despite the backlog of vessels waiting to traverse, freeing up the Suez Canal should eventually relieve the growing strain on the global shipping industry and the transport of oil, gas and consumer goods between Asia and Europe. Some 13% of global maritime trade and 10% of seaborne oil shipments travel through the canal.

Reopening the Suez will also ease pressure on Mr. Sisi, who in 2015 inaugurated an expanded canal meant to increase government revenue and help turn the page on the upheavals of the Arab Spring and the army takeover that brought him to power. No revenue boom has materialized, testing his rule.

Those involved in the rescue effort had predicted that the process could take several days as dredgers worked to remove hundreds of thousands of cubic feet of sand around the ship’s bow.

Salvagers made significant progress late Friday after freeing the rudder and turning on the ship’s engines, people familiar with the operation said. Efforts continued throughout the weekend, with officials saying that they were quietly optimistic, in part because of higher spring tides accompanying the full moon that began on Sunday.

The container ship Ever Given moved north on the Suez Canal on Monday.



Photo:

khaled elfiqi/EPA/Shutterstock

While European and Asian companies bore the brunt of the closure’s impact, it also threatened knock-on delays and costs to U.S. importers and exporters. The White House had offered unspecified assistance to clear the waterway.

To help remove the backlog of vessels in the Red Sea and the Mediterranean, the Suez Canal Authority is expected to try to increase the number of ships moving through the waterway. In normal circumstances, the daily maximum is 106, according to the World Shipping Council, a shipping trade body.

Many shipowners had already decided to reroute down the coast of Africa to the Cape of Good Hope, adding weeks to the journey and increasing fuel costs. Salvagers originally worried that freeing the ship could take weeks, as it would need to be lightened by taking off fuel and ballast water and possibly removing its roughly 20,000 containers with helicopters.

Early Friday, the Ever Greet—a sister ship to the Ever Given—was steered toward the Cape of Good Hope route, according to MarineTraffic, a shipping tracker. The vessel was sailing from China to Rotterdam in the Netherlands.

Analysts have said a flood of ships moving through the canal could congest European ports such as Rotterdam and Antwerp, lengthening waiting times to unload cargo at their destinations.

Once the canal is opened to external traffic, the focus will turn to how the calamity happened and who should be held responsible. The answer could have repercussions on insurance claims by the multiple parties involved.

Navigation experts and engineers at the canal authority are investigating, joined by the ship’s owner, Japan’s Shoei Kisen Kaisha Ltd., and claims adjusters for international insurance.

People involved in the investigation, still in its initial stages, have said it is focusing on a sandstorm and a roughly two-minute burst of wind that likely threw the vessel inexorably off course.

The blockage posed arguably the biggest international crisis of the seven-year rule of Mr. Sisi, who made the $8.5 billion canal expansion the centerpiece of an economic overhaul. But the changes didn’t boost state revenues, and the Ever Given threatened to further disrupt canal income.

Last year’s $5.6 billion in revenue represented less than 2% of Egypt’s total economic output, but the canal is an important source of foreign currency for a country with a large trade deficit.

Write to Summer Said at summer.said@wsj.com

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