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Explained: How the Ever Given is being moved to clear the Suez Canal

The Suez Canal blockage caused by the stuck cargo ship has been holding up an estimated $9.6bn of goods every day, and trading companies have been forced to reroute ships.

By: Explained Desk | New Delhi |
March 29, 2021 4:40:52 pm
This satellite image from Planet Labs Inc. shows the cargo ship MV Ever Given stuck in the Suez Canal near Suez, Egypt, Sunday, March 28, 2021. (Photo: Planet Labs Inc. via AP)

The mammoth cargo ship Ever Given, which has blocked the Suez Canal for almost a week now, has been freed from the vital channel’s shoreline and seen its course corrected by 80%, Egyptian authorities said.

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The news has brought cheers amid expectations that traffic in the canal would soon resume, causing a fall in crude prices. The prices had gone up after the canal was blocked on Tuesday. According to Reuters, Brent crude was down by $1 per barrel to $63.67.

A human-made waterway, the Suez Canal is one of the world’s most heavily used shipping lanes, carrying over 12% of world trade by volume. The “traffic jam” caused by the blockage has been holding up an estimated $9.6bn of goods every day, and trading companies have been forced to reroute ships.

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Built in 1869, the canal provides a major shortcut for ships moving between Europe and Asia, which before its construction had to sail around Africa to complete the same journey.

How the Ever Given is being freed

In the early hours of Monday, rescue workers from the SCA and the Dutch company Smit Salvage used tug boats to move the 2 lakh-tonne ship from the canal bank, following dredging and excavation work over the weekend, Reuters reported. The ship is 400m long – more than the height of the Empire State Building.

Salvage teams working on both land and water continuously for five days and nights have dug up millions of tonnes of earth from around the ship.

The rescue efforts received a major boost at night time due to tides swelling up the canal’s water level and allowing the Ever Given to regain buoyancy, a New York Times report said. To ease its weight, officials on Sunday were preparing to move some of the cargo vessel’s 20,000-odd containers.

The Ever Given’s stern, or rearmost part, which had been only four metres from the shore, has now been wrenched away to 102m, the SCA said.

It is unclear, however, if the ship’s bow, or front end, is free from dirt and debris, and high-pressure water is expected to be pumped below it to remove sand.

Further tugging effort to move the ship is to resume today after 11:30 AM in Egypt (3 PM in India), when the next high tide is expected to cause the water level to rise. The operation is highly delicate, with teams working to ensure that the ship does not get unbalanced or breaks apart.

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As per the SCA, traffic will resume once the ship is moved to a waiting area in a wider part of the canal. The ship has currently blocked 369 vessels from passing through Suez, including dozens of container ships, bulk carriers, oil tankers and liquefied natural gas (LNG) or liquefied petroleum gas (LPG) vessels.

When the salvage operation started, there were concerns that it could take weeks to conclude, causing some ships to take a U-turn to go on the extra two week-long journey via the Cape of Good Hope, incurring an extra $26,000 in fuel costs per day, the NYT report said.

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