Salvage teams have freed a colossal container ship stuck for nearly a week in the Suez Canal, ending a crisis that had clogged one of the world’s most vital waterways and halted billions of dollars a day in maritime commerce.
Helped by the tides, a flotilla of tugboats wrenched the bow of the skyscraper-sized Ever Given from the canal’s sandy bank, where it had been lodged since March 23.
The tugs blared their horns in jubilation as they guided the Ever Given through the water after days of futility that had captivated the world, drawing scrutiny and social media ridicule.
“We pulled it off!” said Peter Berdowski, chief executive of Boskalis, the salvage firm hired to extract the Ever Given.
“I am excited to announce that our team of experts, working in close collaboration with the Suez Canal Authority, successfully refloated the Ever Given… thereby making free passage through the Suez Canal possible again.”
The giant vessel headed towards the Great Bitter Lake, a wide stretch of water halfway between the north and south ends of the canal, where it will be inspected, said Evergreen Marine Corp, a Taiwan-based shipping company that operates the ship.
More than 40 vessels anchored at the Great Bitter Lake waiting for the Ever Given to be freed resumed their southbound journey through the waterway, according to canal services firm Leth Agencies.
More than 30 southbound vessels anchored off the Mediterranean city of Port Said are expected to enter the canal, it added.
Buffeted by a sandstorm, the Ever Given had crashed into a bank of a single-lane stretch of the canal about four miles north of the southern entrance, near the city of Suez. That created a massive traffic jam that held up 9 billion dollars a day in global trade and strained supply chains already burdened by the coronavirus pandemic.
At least 367 vessels, carrying everything from crude oil to cattle, were backed up as they waited to traverse the canal. Dozens of others have taken the long, alternative route around the Cape of Good Hope at Africa’s southern tip — a 3,100-mile detour that costs ships hundreds of thousands of dollars in fuel and other costs.
Egypt, which considers the canal a source of national pride and crucial revenue, has lost more than 95 million dollars in tolls, according to the data firm Refinitiv.
President Abdel Fattah el-Sissi, who for days was silent about the crisis, praised Monday’s events, saying: “Egyptians have succeeded in ending the crisis, despite the massive technical complexity.”
While the canal is now unblocked, it is unclear when traffic will return to normal. Analysts expect it could take at least another 10 days to clear the backlog on either end.