Owners hope to refloat trapped Suez Canal ship on Saturday

The owners of the skyscraper cargo ship, which has been blocking Egypt’s Suez Canal since Tuesday, said they were hoping to get the ship back on the road on Saturday.

“We apologize for blocking the traffic and causing enormous problems and concerns for many people, including those involved,” said Yukito Higaki, president of Shoei Kisen KK, the Japanese company that owns the Ever Given, later Friday at a press conference.

At the company’s headquarters in Imabari, western Japan, he added that 10 tugs had been deployed and the workers were still dredging the shores and seabed near the bow of the ship in hopes of getting the boat afloat when the tide was expected do.

In a separate statement on Saturday, the company said it was also considering removing containers from the ship to reduce weight, but added that it would be an extremely difficult and delicate operation if ongoing resuscitation efforts fail.

Elsewhere, a spokesman for Egypt’s Suez Canal Authority told NBC News on Saturday that the ship’s engine had started working late Friday evening and that this was a good indication that there were no mechanical problems with the boat. This should help shift efforts, they added.

The Ever Given, a 400-meter-long Panama-flagged container ship that is taller than the Eiffel Tower, carries cargo between Asia and Europe. It got stuck on Tuesday in the narrow but vital Egyptian canal that runs between Africa and the Sinai Peninsula.

An initial investigation showed that the ship ran aground due to strong winds, not due to a mechanical or motor failure, announced the company and the Canal Authority.

The maroon ship made headlines around the world and cast a spell over the online audience while at the same time abruptly bringing traffic to a standstill on the east-west waterway, which is crucial for global shipping – a route that accounts for around 12 percent of world trade and for the Transportation of oil is particularly important.

The blockade affects global supply chains, especially an already ailing automotive industry suffering from shortages of semiconductors, seat foam and other petroleum-based materials. Further delays could lead to bottlenecks in the US market.

President Joe Biden offered to help Friday, telling reporters that the US has “the equipment and capacity that most countries don’t, and we’re seeing what we can do and what help we can be.”

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The traffic jam at sea increased to around 280 ships outside the Suez Canal on Saturday, according to the canal service provider Leth Agencies.

Some ships changed their course south to orbit the southern tip of Africa while, according to the data company Refinitiv, dozens of ships were still on their way to the waterway. Other routes around the continent could use more fuel, cause greater environmental pollution and put boats at risk of piracy, shipping experts say.

Even after the canal reopens, the containers left behind are likely to reach busy ports, exposing them to additional delays before unloading.

Daniel Stanton, global supply chain expert and author of Supply Chain Management For Dummies, called the blockade a “Black Swan Event – a low-probability, high-impact supply chain disruption” that would have been very difficult to predict.

Stanton said it was likely that supply bottlenecks would be felt in Europe ahead of the US, with later delays in manufacturing and goods.

“When this event happens … we will realize how vulnerable all of our supply chains are and how dependent we are all on that one choke point,” he added. “Hopefully we will learn from this event.”

Charlene Gubash, Raf Sanchez, and The Associated Press contributed.

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