Suez Canal ship finally free in boost for global trade
The skyscraper-sized container ship that has been stuck in the Suez Canal for almost a week was finally freed on Monday, with the vessel starting to move north after a dramatic rescue mission to reopen one of the world’s main trade arteries.
Tugboats involved in the rescue sounded their horns as the bow of the Ever Given container ship was released from the eastern canal bank shortly after 2pm London time on Monday. Leth Agencies, a transit agent in the Suez Canal, said the vessel was moving north to the Great Bitter Lake portion of the canal.
Boskalis, the Dutch company fronting the rescue of the ship, had earlier warned there was only a 70 per cent chance of freeing the vessel this week after the stern of the ship was moved overnight, cautioning that it was still badly stuck.
But efforts to free the bow from heavy clay soil on Monday afternoon were successful, potentially allowing the speedy reopening of the waterways to international shipping traffic.
The blockage has created a build-up of about 370 vessels on either side of the canal, which carries about 12 per cent of global trade. About $10bn worth of trade passes through the canal each day, Lloyd’s List estimates.
Egypt’s president Abdel Fattah el-Sisi at the weekend ordered preparations for removing the containers from the ship if refloating efforts failed, raising fears the waterway could be cut off for weeks given the complicated and arduous nature of removing the goods far from port.
News of the breakthrough sent oil prices lower, with Brent crude, the international oil benchmark, falling almost 1 per cent to $63.99 a barrel.
Shoei Kisen Kaisha, the Japanese company that owns the ship, had earlier said refloating was “near” after salvage experts changed the angle of the vessel.
Rescue efforts on Monday were focused on taking advantage of high spring tides to pull the vessel with tugboats.
The disruption has hit at a time when global supply chains are already under strain, and the distortions caused by Covid-19 have placed particular pressure on the availability of containers. Soren Skou, chief executive of AP Moller-Maersk, the world’s largest container shipping line, told the Financial Times the blockage would accelerate a shift away from just-in-time supply chains.
The prospect of a prolonged blockage of the canal has caused a number of shipping companies to reroute vessels around Africa, which adds substantial time and cost to voyages. Taiwanese group Evergreen, which operates the Ever Given, is among those to have diverted ships.
Once the canal is unblocked, the Suez Canal Authority plans to work to allow 150 ships a day to pass through, far more than the 90 vessels it can handle on a normal day.
Additional reporting by Hudson Lockett in Hong Kong
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