Ships are on the move on the Suez Canal again, six days after a grounded Evergreen Line boxship halted traffic on the waterway. The 20,388-teu Ever Given (built 2018), which is owned by Shoei Kisen, was refloated shortly after 3pm local time (13:00 GMT) on Monday and then sailed to the Great Bitter Lake, where the ship will be inspected. With the ship dislodged, the 400 vessels left waiting were once again able to transit the canal, Suez Canal Authority head Osama rabie told reporters, with 113 expected to pass through by Tuesday morning.
Evergreen Line, the charterer of the Ever Given, said it was “most grateful” to the authority after the ship was moving. “We would also like to express our deepest appreciation to the crew who remain steadfast in their posts, as well as the salvage experts and dredging team for their professionalism and relentless efforts over the past six days towards securing this outcome.” Boskalis chief executive Peter Berdowski said refloating the ship makes passage through the canal possible again. Boskalis subsidiary SMIT Salvage had been brought in to aid in refloating efforts. “The time pressure to complete this operation was evident and unprecedented, and the result is a true display of our unique capabilities as a dredging and marine-services provider.”
The refloating of the vessel came after the Suez Canal Authority said earlier on Monday that Suez Canal traffic could resume as soon as the Ever Given was successfully refloated. At the time, the authority had reported that tugs were able to reposition the ship on the canal linking the Red Sea to the Mediterranean Sea. “This was the result of successful push and tow manoeuvres, which led to the restoration of 80% of the vessel’s direction; with the stern 102 [metres] away from the bank of the canal now instead of 4 [metres] prior to the refloating,” the authority said in a statement.
The Ever Given ran aground close to the southern end of the canal on 23 March, reportedly the result of weather conditions at the time. It was positioned nearly perpendicular to the canal, creating a traffic jam of hundreds of ships, holding back billions of dollars in goods, raising rates across the industry and pushing some vessels to reroute around the Cape of Good Hope — a move that adds a week or more to their voyages. The refloating comes after multiple reports of progress that were ultimately false starts, with reports circulating in the hours after the grounding that the ship had partially been refloated.
According to Boskalis, roughly 30,000 cubic metres of sand was dredged to free the vessel, with the help of 11 harbour tugs and two more powerful seagoing tugs. Evergreen Line, a unit of Evergreen Marine, said the Ever Given will be inspected in Great Bitter Lake. If the ship is considered seaworthy, it will be allowed to resume scheduled service. It said arrangements will be made for the cargo on board following the inspection. After arriving on scene on the evening of 25 March, the company aimed to refloat the ship over the weekend as the tide rose. After refloating operations on Monday, videos posted to social media show crews blasting their horns in celebration.
Ahead of the ship being freed, Danish containership giant AP Moller-Maersk said in an advisory to customers that it could be as many as six days before the massive back-up of ships waiting to transit the canal is cleared up. Maersk said it had three vessels stuck in the canal, 30 waiting to enter and 15 had been redirected around the Cape of Good Hope. Evercore analyst Jonathan Chappell said the fallout from the blockage would continue to impact container shipping in the near-term as boxships dominate Suez Canal traffic and several have been ordered to take the long way around Africa. “An absolute onslaught of containers will likely hit the major European ports all at once in the coming weeks, adding to widespread logistical bottlenecks throughout the continent,” Chappell wrote in a note published on Monday. “Waiting time at the canal, around the Cape [of Good Hope], and at anchorage outside ports, as well as waiting for equipment to turn once at the discharge ports, is likely to exacerbate already massive inefficiencies in the containership fleet, just as new stimulus checks hit bank accounts and vaccine optimism leads to more economic openings.” Chappell does not have any containership companies in his coverage, but does cover road and rail transportation. For tankers and dry bulk shipping, he said the blockage would be supportive of rates but to a much smaller extent.