The Suez Canal is one of the world’s most important waterways. Located 75 miles east of Cairo, the capital of Egypt, it links the Mediterranean Sea to the Red Sea, allowing for direct shipping from Europe to Asia. Roughly 12% of the world’s shipping traffic and a chunk of its oil supply goes through the manmade canal, which has become particularly vital following disruptions to shipping.
It’s a big deal that the 1,312-foot-long Ever Given was blocking the Suez Canal for nearly a week. With the canal’s cargo traffic at a standstill, that meant delays in everything from oil to food to clothing to semiconductors.
But on Sunday night (Monday morning Egypt time), a breakthrough took place.
What’s the latest update?
The Ever Given was lodged firmly into the embankments on each side of the Suez Canal. After six days of rigorous efforts, the ship was refloated Sunday, according to shipping services company Inchcape, and fully freed Monday.
“The MV Ever Given was successfully re-floated at 04:30 lt 29/03/2021. She is being secured at the moment. More information about next steps will follow once they are known,” the company tweeted.
The Suez Canal Authority didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment.
The vessel’s refloating came after two additional tugboats were deployed on Sunday, as reported by AP News, to help a fleet of around 10 similar boats laboring to extract the 200,000-ton Ever Given. Tthe Suez Canal Authority over the weekend also deployed more onland heavy machinery to dig around the ship’s bow, which would make it easier for the vessel to be pulled out.
Authorities had been working to extract the vessel for nearly a week. Experts said a couple days of delay would be a major inconvenience for shipping companies, but that a week or more could prove catastrophic, and not just for shipping companies.
“If the ship were to remain stuck for another week it could cause massive delays in the delivery of products, and every second of delay leaves billions of dollars’ worth of disruptions on the line,” Jennifer Bisceglie, CEO of supply chain risk management firm Interos, said to CNET on Friday.
Peter Berdowski, CEO of Boskalis, the company leading the rescue effort, cautioned on Thursday that the Ever Given being stuck for weeks was a very real possibility.
“We can’t exclude it might take weeks, depending on the situation,” Berdowski told the Dutch television program Nieuwsuur. “It is like an enormous beached whale. It’s an enormous weight on the sand.”
Shoei Kisen Kaisha, the company that owns the Ever Given, released a statement Thursday apologizing for the issue.
Meanwhile, the US government has offered assistance to the Suez Canal Authority.
“In connection with the ongoing efforts to dislodge the container ship that ran aground during its passage through the Suez Canal, the Suez Canal Authority values the offer of the United States of America to contribute to these efforts,” the SCA said in a statement, “and looks forward to cooperating with the U.S. in this regard in appreciation of this good initiative which confirms the friendly relations and cooperation between the two countries.”
Wait, what happened?
Ever Given is a 200,000-ton cargo ship that spans a quarter mile, roughly the length of four football fields. You’ll notice “Evergreen” is written across its body but, confusingly, that’s branding for Evergreen Marine Corp., the Taiwanese company that operates the ship.
On Tuesday, March 23, just before 8 a.m. Egypt time, strong gusts of wind knocked it off course. En route to Rotterdam from China, it was holding around 20,000 shipping containers of cargo, estimated to be worth $9 billion, when it became wedged in the canal’s east bank.
“The accident is mainly due to the lack of visibility resulting from bad weather conditions as the country passes through a dust storm, with wind speed reaching 40 knots,” Suez Canal Authority chief Osama Rabie said in a statement.
No one on board was injured, according to the ship’s technical manager, Bernhard Schulte Shipmanagement. But the task of extricating the Ever Given is momentous. The ship was wedged diagonally — as you can see in the above aerial shot — and is longer than the Canal is wide. The ship spans 1,312 feet, while the Canal’s width ranges from 205 to 225 feet.
The Suez Canal Authority deployed a gang of tugboats on Tuesday to pull the Ever Given out of its predicament, with more joining the effort throughout the week, with little success — until Sunday. Smit Salvage, a renowned maritime rescue company, was hired on Wednesday to assist the SCA in breaking the bottleneck.
Officials from Smit Salvage on Thursday told AP the rescue operation could take “days to weeks,” though Mohab Mamish, Egyptian President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi’s adviser on seaports and the former chair of the Suez Canal Authority, told the same news agency Thursday that navigation through the canal “will resume again within 48-72 hours, maximum.”
What did this mean?
“Ship in front of us ran aground while going through the canal and is now stuck sideways,” Julianne Cona wrote on Instagram as she snapped a photo of Ever Given from her own cargo ship, “looks like we might be here for a little bit.”
It was one of the approximately 321 ships that have amassed in the bottleneck, according to the Suez Canal Authority.
When the ship was lodged, shipping companies faced a dilemma: wait for the Ever Given to be floated or divert around the Horn of Africa, another sea route that links Europe and Asia. The latter option would delay shipments by up to 14 days.
Such delays could have caused severe shortages, as the global shipping industry is already beset by a lack of shipping containers and other complications arising from the COVID-19 pandemic. Oil is particularly vulnerable to the blockage, with the Suez Canal, which opened in 1869, being a key route for transporting oil from the Middle East to Asia and Europe.
Brent crude oil, the price of which is used as an international benchmark, rose 2.85% after news of the Ever Given’s plight broke. The rise is tempered by further COVID-19 lockdown restrictions in Europe, which has decreased demand for oil. Local officials hope the issue can be resolved within days, but longer delays would make oil price spikes the beginning of the world’s trouble.
“The Suez Canal accounts for nearly 30% of all container ship traffic,” said Interos’ Bisceglie, “with carriers transporting oil, natural gas, clothing, food, electronics, machinery, and even semiconductor chips, an item which has already been in the midst of a global shortage.”
Has this happened before?
Following mechanical issues, a Japanese vessel became lodged in the ground under the canal water in 2017. Tugboats refloated the ship within hours. A year prior, the CSCL Indian Ocean spent five days aground before being pulled out by tugboats.
At first, officials at the Canal hoped to dislodge the Ever Given within a day or two. Instead, the Ever Given is into its sixth day of being stuck, giving it the dubious honor of blocking the canal longer than any other cargo ship in history.
Officials at the Suez Canal were hoping the Ever Given would be refloated on a timescale closer to that of the 2017 Japanese vessel than that of the 2016 CSCL Indian Ocean.
“If … the Suez Canal remains blocked for another three to five days,” Sea-Intelligence vice president of product and operations Niels Madsen told Reuters last Tuesday, “then this will start to have very serious global ramifications.”
Suez Canal memes flowed
Has social media had anything to say about the drama? Of course it has!
CNET’s Sean Keane contributed to this report.