SUEZ, Egypt – Containers could be removed to free the skyscraper cargo ship that has been blocking Egypt’s Suez Canal since Tuesday, the head of the canal authority said on Sunday.
Lt. Gen. Osama Rabie told Egyptian television broadcaster Extra News that the country’s president Abdel Fattah el-Sissi had ordered the Suez Canal Authority (SCA) to prepare for all options, including removing some of the 18,300 containers from the 1,300-foot Ever Given . Without going into detail, he added that officials had spoken to the US about the possibility of removing some of the cargo.
Dredgers working to remove the stranded ship have so far shifted 27,000 tons of sand to a depth of 60 feet, Rabie said in a separate statement on Sunday.
He added that two tugs took part in the operation on Sunday, bringing the total to 14. They pulled maneuvers from three different directions to release the ship, he said.
Efforts would continue “around the clock” depending on wind conditions and tides, he said.
The ship’s technical director, Bernhard Schulte Shipmanagement (BSM), said on Saturday that the ship’s rudder was cleared of the sediment the day before at the stern of the ship.
The Ever Given was stowed diagonally across a southern section of the Suez Canal on Tuesday, preventing more than 300 ships, including dozens of container ships and bulk carriers, from using the main trade route.
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Shoei Kisen Kaisha Ltd., the company that owns the ship, previously said it was considering removing containers in case other attempts to float fail.
The Japanese-owned ship marked in Panama, which carries cargo between Asia and Europe, stopped all traffic on the canal, and experts say it could take weeks to free the stranded ship and clear the blockade.
The closure could affect oil and gas shipments from the Middle East to Europe. Already, Syria has started rationing the distribution of fuel in the war-torn country The Associated Press reported concerns about delays in shipments arriving due to the blockade.
According to Reuters, shipping rates for oil products tankers almost doubled after the ship was stranded, and the blockade disrupted global supply chains that were already strained by Covid-19 restrictions.
If the blockade drags on, shippers can choose to reroute their cargoes around the Cape of Good Hope, adding about two weeks to trips and additional fuel costs.
The Egyptian Prime Minister Mostafa Madbouly thanked foreign partners on Saturday for offers to get the ship afloat again. The US military has accepted a request for assistance in freeing the stranded ship.
BSM, the ship’s manager, said Saturday Ever Given, which was en route to the Netherlands, had two canal pilots on board at the time of the incident. The 25 crew members of the ship, all of them Indian nationals, are safe and remain on board, the company said.
The initial investigation found that the ship ran aground due to strong winds rather than engine failure and there were no reports of pollution or cargo damage.
However, Rabie said Saturday that an investigation was ongoing and he was not ruling out human or technical errors.
Charlene Gubash reported from Suez and Yuliya Talmazan from London.
Reuters and The Associated Press contributed to this report.
Charlene Gubash contributed.