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Free at last: Suez traffic resumes as giant container ship refloated

Traffic in the Suez Canal has resumed hours after a massive container ship, which blocked the crucial shipping route for almost a week, was freed, the canal authority says.

 

Mar 30, 2021, updated Mar 30, 2021
The giant Ever Given container ship is freed from the banks of the Suez Canal (AP photo).

The giant Ever Given container ship is freed from the banks of the Suez Canal (AP photo).

“Navigation has returned in both directions starting from 6pm,” head of the Suez Canal Authority (SCA), Osama Rabae, said.

Some 113 vessels are scheduled to pass through the canal until 8am on Tuesday, according to the official.

The Panama-flagged ship Ever Given was earlier freed in a rescue attempt making use of the high tide in a narrow stretch of the canal where the mammoth vessel got stuck last Tuesday.

Rabae said the “difficult mission” had been accomplished in record time without causing damage to the ship or its load of around 18,000 containers.

After being unwedged, the 400-metre-long ship was to move on to the Great Lakes area, a wider section of the canal, for technical inspection and an investigation into the incident.

“The chartered vessel will be repositioned to the Great Bitter Lake in the canal for an inspection of its seaworthiness,” the operator of the ship, Evergreen Line, said in an emailed statement.

“The outcome of that inspection will determine whether the ship can resume its scheduled service. Once the inspection is finalised, decisions will be made regarding arrangements for cargo currently on board.”

The container ship veered off its course on Tuesday when the crew lost visibility during a sandstorm, resulting in a huge traffic jam.

The blockage of the canal by the ship disrupted supply chains and sent ripples through global markets as it remained struck across the waterway.

According to Rabae, the mishap forced 422 vessels to wait for passage.

“Starting from today, we have another challenge, which is the passage of the waiting ships,” Rabae added at a televised press conference in the canal city of al-Ismailia.

Some shipping companies have already rerouted their vessels to avoid the canal. International shipping firm, Maersk Group, said it had redirected 15 vessels around Africa’s Cape of Good Hope.

Maersk on Monday predicted that clearing the backlog of vessels could take at least six days for the “complete queue to pass, conditional to safety and other operational circumstances”.

Rabae said the canal remains “the world’s shortest and safest” waterway.

The Suez Canal, which connects the Mediterranean to the Red Sea, provides the shortest shipping route between Asia and Europe.

The blockage was costing the canal operator 13 million to 14 million dollars ($A17.03 million to $A18 million) in losses per day, according to SCA officials.

At least 18,840 ships passed through the canal last year.

The Suez Canal provides one of Egypt’s main sources of income, alongside tourism and remittances from expatriates.

Revenue from the waterway reached 5.6 billion dollars ($A7.3 billion) last year.

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