‘Extreme difficulty’ freeing ship stuck in Suez Canal, says Japanese owner of vessel

SINGAPORE: Japanese ship-leasing firm Shoei Kisen Kaisha, which owns the giant container vessel stuck in the Suez Canal, said it is facing “extreme difficulty” trying to refloat it.

“In co-operation with local authorities and Bernhard Schulte Shipmanagement, a vessel management company, we are trying to refloat (the ship), but we are facing extreme difficulty,” Shoei Kisen Kaisha said on Thursday (Mar 25) in a statement on its website.

“We sincerely apologise for causing a great deal of worry to ships in the Suez Canal and those planning to go through the canal.”

Ever Given vessel stuck in Suez Canal

Stranded container ship Ever Given, one of the world’s largest container ships, is seen after it ran aground, in Suez Canal, Egypt on Mar 25, 2021. (Photo: Reuters/Ahmed Fahmy)

Egyptian tug boats trying to free Taiwan-owned MV Ever Given

Egyptian tug boats work to free Taiwan-owned MV Ever Given (Evergreen) in this photo released on Mar 25, 2021. (Photo: AFP/Suez Canal Authority/Handout)

Egypt’s Suez Canal Authority said it is “temporarily suspending navigation” through one of the world’s busiest shipping lanes until the 400m-long Ever Given vessel is freed.

Egyptian authorities have deployed eight large vessels to drag the stricken container ship off the canal bed.

The vessel ran aground diagonally across the single-lane stretch of the southern canal on Tuesday morning after losing the ability to steer amid high winds and a dust storm, the Suez Canal Authority (SCA) said in a statement.

It is now blocking transit in both directions through one of the world’s busiest shipping channels for goods, oil, grain and other products linking Asia and Europe.

Peter Berdowski, CEO of Dutch company Boskalis, which is trying to free the ship, said it was too early to say how long the job might take.

“We can’t exclude it might take weeks, depending on the situation,” Berdowski told the Dutch television programme Nieuwsuur.

He said the ship’s bow and stern had been lifted up against either side of the canal.

READ: Tugs work to free giant container ship stranded in Suez Canal

Container ship runs aground in Suez Canal, blocks traffic

Workers are seen next to a container ship which was hit by strong wind and ran aground in Suez Canal, Egypt, on Mar 24, 2021. (Photo: Suez Canal Authority/Handout via REUTERS)

“It is like an enormous beached whale. It’s an enormous weight on the sand. We might have to work with a combination of reducing the weight by removing containers, oil and water from the ship, tug boats and dredging of sand.”

Bernhard Schulte Shipmanagement (BSM), the technical manager of Ever Given, said dredgers were working to clear sand and mud from around the vessel to free her while tugboats in conjunction with Ever Given’s winches are working to shift it.

According to the Japanese ship owner, there were 25 crew on board, all of them of Indian nationality. The ship was fully laden with consumer goods bound for European markets in 20,000 standard shipping containers.

READ: Stranded Suez ship’s owner, insurers face millions in claims

Marine services firm GAC issued a note to clients overnight saying efforts to free the vessel using tug boats continued, but that wind conditions and the sheer size of the vessel “were hindering the operation”.

Ship-tracking software shows five tugs surrounding the Ever Given and three more heading towards it. The ship’s GPS signal shows only minor changes to its position over the past 24 hours, however.

Egyptian officials checking the operation trying to free Taiwan-owned cargo MV Ever Given

A handout picture released by the Suez Canal Authority on Mar 25, 2021 shows an Egyptian officials checking the operation trying to free Taiwan-owned cargo MV Ever Given (Evergreen) at Egypt’s Suez Canal. 

A closer view of the 400-meter, 224,000-tonne Ever Given container ship, leased by Taiwan's Ev

A closer view of the Ever Given container ship seen blocking the Suez Canal in this European Space Agency Copernicus Sentinel-2 satellite image. (Photo: Reuters)

Several dozen vessels, including other large container ships, tankers carrying oil and gas, and bulk vessels hauling grain have backed up at either end of the canal to create one of the worst shipping jams seen for years.

Roughly 30 per cent of the world’s shipping container volume transits through the 193km Suez Canal daily, and about 12 per cent of total global trade of all goods.

Shipping experts say that if the blockage is not likely to be cleared within the next 24 to 48 hours, some shipping firms may be forced to re-route vessels around the southern tip of Africa, which would add roughly a week to the journey.

READ: Egypt’s Suez Canal – A history of the key route

But the chairman of the Suez Canal Authority told media that despite the blockage some cargo was able to move south and that efforts to dislodge Ever Given would continue.

Consultancy Wood Mackenzie said the biggest impact was on container shipping, but there were also a total of 16 laden crude and product oil tankers due to sail through the canal and now delayed by the incident, amounting to 870,000 tonnes of crude and 670,000 tonnes of clean oil products such as gasoline, naphtha and diesel.

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