Dire shortages ahead as ship refloat fails
Countries around the world are on the verge of losing key goods if the massive container ship The Ever Given stays lodged in the banks of the Suez Canal.
An attempt to refloat the megaship blocking the Egyptian canal failed yesterday, the vessel's managers said, as companies continue to re-route services away from the vital shipping lane around Africa.
The MV Ever Given, which is longer than four football fields, has been wedged diagonally across the entire canal since Tuesday, shutting the waterway in both directions.
"Another attempt to refloat the vessel earlier today... was not successful," the Singapore-based Bernhard Schulte Shipmanagement (BSM) said in a statement.
The blockage has caused a huge traffic jam for more than 200 ships at either end of the 193km long canal and major delays in the delivery of oil and other products.
"For traders, they are going to scramble to supply their clients in Europe," Jan Luhmann, the founder of JL Coffee Consulting, told the publication.
"Resolving this is going to take a few days if we are lucky, but even so, a lot of damage has already been done."
Raphaelle Hemmerlin, the head of logistics at Swiss coffee trader Sucafina SA, said the industry was on the verge of collapse.
"Can roasters support two to three weeks of delays? Probably not," she said.
"I don't think they have the buffer stock that they normally have."
Impact of Suez Canal traffic jam
Around $10 billion worth of goods moves through the Suez Canal every day with the blockage triggering export and import panic around the globe.
BSM said "the focus is now on dredging to remove sand and mud from around the port side of the vessel's bow".
It said Smit Salvage, a Dutch firm that has worked on some of the most famous wrecks of recent years, confirmed there would be "two additional tugs" arriving by tomorrow to assist.
There had been "no reports of pollution or cargo damage and initial investigations rule out any mechanical or engine failure as a cause of the grounding", BSM said.
Crews had been seen working through the night, using a large dredging machine under floodlights.
But the vessel with gross tonnage of 219,000 and deadweight of 199,000 has yet to budge, forcing global shipping giant Maersk and Germany's Hapag-Lloyd to look into re-routing around the southern tip of Africa.
That is likely to cost several hundred thousand dollars in extra fuel, raising shipping costs by 15-20 per cent, according to Plamen Natzkoff, an expert at VesselsValue.
Egypt's Suez Canal Authority said the megaship veered off course and ran aground when winds reaching 40 knots whipped up a sandstorm that affected visibility.
BSM also said that "initial investigations suggest the vessel grounded due to strong wind".
Data indicated 213 vessels were now stalled at either end of the canal, which links the Mediterranean and the Red Sea.
The blockage was holding up an estimated $9.6 billion worth of cargo each day between Asia and Europe, it said.
Shipping expert Rose George said it was "inevitable there's going to be some knock-on cost effect" for consumers around the world, but cast doubt on the explanation that gusts of wind caused the ship's grounding.
"I don't know if that's true, but I do know that more than two thirds of marine accidents are due to human error," she told AFP in London.
Fears of weeks-long blockage
The canal authority has said between 15,000 and 20,000 cubic metres of sand would have to be removed in order to reach a depth of 12-16m and refloat the ship.
If those efforts fail, salvage teams will look to unload some of the Ever Given's cargo and take advantage of a spring high tide due to start on Sunday night to move the vessel.
Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi's seaports adviser, Mohab Mamish, who oversaw the recent expansion of the waterway, told AFP late Thursday that "maritime navigation will resume again within 48-72 hours, maximum".
Salvage experts had already warned the shutdown could last days or even weeks, however.
Turkey on Friday offered to send a tugboat to help Egypt free the Panama-flagged vessel, as it pressed on with its bid to mend ties with regional rivals.
The United States also said it was ready to send support, including a team of US Navy experts.
Crude prices jumped by almost six per cent Wednesday in response to the canal blockage.
But they tumbled on Thursday, at one point completely wiping out the gains.
- With Wires
Originally published as Dire shortages ahead as ship refloat fails