Suez Canal blocked: how Egypt is moving a 220,000-tonne monster ship

A gargantuan effort is underway to shift the stranded behemoth blocking vital waterway

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One of the world's largest container ships, officially classed as Ultra Large got stuck on Tuesday as it struggled through a sandstorm while transiting the Suez canal. It battled poor visibility and, possibly, a failure of its navigation equipment caused by a power failure.

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The Panama-flagged Ever Given found itself stuck at 90 degrees in the canal, blocking hundreds of ships trying to transit the trade artery.

The ship's gargantuan Golden-Class container vessel engines – capable of generating a total of 80,000 horsepower – were of little use getting it free.

Egyptian authorities first said on Wednesday that it may take two days to move the ship. Yet, within hours, the ship was partially refloated and although it is yet to be cleared progress is being made.

This has not been sufficient to fully open the channel however and there are now fears the shipping route will be partially shut for days or even weeks.

Suez Canal blocked as container ship runs aground

Suez Canal blocked as container ship runs aground

Here is how Egyptian authorities are working around the clock to free the vessel and get trade flowing again.

Tugs and dredgers from Egypt’s Suez Canal Authority are doing the heavy lifting to try and defy expectations of a lengthy canal closure.

“To get her back in the right direction, they clearly need a lot of tugs. It initially looked like it would take a few days; hence shipping rates and oil went up in the short term,” said Dean Mikkelson, a maritime security analyst.

“Convoys and traffic are expected to resume as soon as the vessel is towed to another position,” read a statement from the ship’s owner, on Wednesday afternoon.

The National
The National

Witnesses reported trade vessels starting to make the journey shortly after, but this has been intermittent.

Mr Mikkelson said a “worst-case scenario” could involve extensive dredging and, potentially, removing some of the ship’s 20,000 metal cargo containers.

“There are tides on this side of the canal due to the Red Sea,” he said, noting that if the ship was trapped farther into the canal, it could have been a disaster.

Mr Mikkelson cautions that further complications lie ahead.

"I can't see how they could do a ship-to-ship transfer of the containers, because there is too much traffic already to the south and north of the Ever Given," he said.

"Tide and tugs makes the most sense."

Soon enough, a flotilla of small tugs arrived, the most powerful of which, the Baraka 1, equipped with almost 16,000 horsepower, or 130 tonnes of "bollard pull" – the standardised measure of how much a tug can pull.

Tugs Mosaed Two and Mosaed Three soon followed, with an additional 140 tonnes of bollard pull combined, according to details on the Suez canal authority website.

They are much smaller than the most powerful tug in the world, the Far Sampson, designed by British company Rolls Royce, that has a bollard pull of 423 tonnes.

The National
The National

At the front of the vessel, excavators removed earth from the channel to help free up the ship's stem so that it could pivot in the waterway.

Between this and the tugs, they managed to free the massive container ship despite the assembled pulling vessels having only a fraction of the force needed to tow such a goliath.

Low tides overnight Wednesday slowed work but authorities said they hope to be done on Thursday, when tides are higher.

While other ships can soon pass, it is unclear when the Even Given will continue its journey.

A tough struggle lies ahead for the Egyptians to fully move the vessel.