The Ever Given container ship that has spent the last week wedged across the Suez Canal is under way again after being successfully refloated on Monday afternoon, ending the blockage of traffic in the strategic waterway that disrupted global trade and impacted international markets.
Tracking data showed the 400-metre vessel in the centre of the channel and making 3.1 knots.
Helped by the peak of high tide, a flotilla of tugboats managed to wrench the bulbous bow of the skyscraper-sized Ever Given from the canal's sandy bank, where it had been firmly lodged since last Tuesday.
Evergreen Line, the time charterer of the vessel, confirmed the ship was refloated.
After hauling the fully laden 220,000-tonne vessel over the canal bank, the salvage team pulled it towards the Great Bitter Lake, a wide stretch of water halfway between the north and south end of the canal, where the ship will undergo technical inspection, canal authorities said.
The results of the inspection will also determine whether the ship can resume its scheduled service.
Once it is complete, a decision and arrangements will be made about the cargo on board.
Traffic through the waterway began resuming on Monday night, with YM Wish, Maersk Emeraldas and Ever Globe being the first vessels to head towards the canal.
Canal authorities have also said that once the channel is free they will begin to investigate how the ship came to be wedged across the canal.
Capt Farhad Patel, director of leading Middle East shipping company Sharaf shipping agency who has teams on site, told The National that the Ever Given is expected to reach Bitter Lake by midnight on Monday and they expect ships to resume transit through the canal at nine pm local time according to official data.
Authorities say they will first clear the 43 ships currently at anchor in Bitter Lake from around 5am on Tuesday morning before north and southbound convoys resume some time after, Capt Patel said.
"Also, Port Said authorities instructed 30 ships to heave up anchor and to prepare their engines," he added.
The planned number of vessels per day has yet to be set by the Suez Canal Authority but maritime expert Ranjith Raja, head of MENA Oil and Shipping Research at data company Refinitiv, said that 90 to 100 ships a day is possible with the right logistics. That would be roughly double the usual daily average of around 50.
Refinitiv estimated it could take more than 10 days to clear the backlog of ships.
Where is the 'Ever Given' – track live
For nearly a week, the Ever Given container ship has been wedged across Egypt's Suez Canal, blocking international passage through one of the most important trade routes in the world.
President Abdel Fattah El Sisi, on social media, thanked everyone who took part in the effort to refloat the Ever Given, saying the operation was carried out in the face of "massive technical complexity".
"The world can now rest assured about the passage of goods and needs through this pivotal shipping route ... Egyptians today proved that they are always up to the challenge," he wrote.
While Suez Canal Authorities work to clear the backlog of ships, dozens of vessels have opted for the alternate route around the Cape of Good Hope at Africa’s southern tip – a 5,000-kilometre detour that adds at least two weeks to journeys and costs ships hundreds of thousands of dollars in fuel and other costs.
On Monday morning, Suez Canal Authority chairman Osama Rabie said that the Ever Given has been turned "80 per cent in the right direction," and that "the stern [had been] moved 102 metres from the shore".
Previous attempts to move the vessel had only succeeded in moving it less than 10 metres.
Shipping experts, including a captain in contact with people at the scene who spoke to The National, said that the early progress was significant.
But ship owner Shoei Kisen Kaisha Ltd warned that it had not been fully refloated, with the bow still jammed in sand and mud.
The company also warned that a window of opportunity to fully move the vessel would depend on tides.
Efforts continued through the day on Monday until the ship appeared to have been freed mid afternoon.
Just before the ship was freed, it appeared there had been a major set back as it swung back through the channel although sources said it did not reground.
Oil prices fell on news that the stern of the ship had been freed from the sand and mud after extensive dredging around the stranded vessel. More than 400 ships are now stuck partway through the canal, at either entrance or en route.
Captain Farhad Patel, director of Sharaf shipping agency, told The National after the early progress that things were moving "positively".
"We have to be clear, the vessel has just refloated and the canal authorities and the salvage companies are making all attempts to clear the canal,” he said.
"Presently, we have been advised that the tugs have been positioned in a pull-off manoeuvre so that the bow can be freed, thus freeing the vessel from her aground position."
Efforts have been intensifying to push and pull the Ever Given with 10 tugboats and dredgers vacuuming up 27,000 cubic metres of sand.
A total of 17 tugboats and support vessels were involved in the last big effort to move the ship.
Video shared online early on Monday claimed to show the moments after the boat was refloated, with Suez Canal authority personnel heard rejoicing and shouting "Allahu Akbar".
The tugs include the Dutch-registered Alp Guard and the Italian-registered Carlo Magno, according to Leth Agencies. The two vessels arrived at the canal over the last 24 hours.
Mohab Mamish, a presidential adviser for canal projects and former canal authority chief, said a third attempt would be made at 4.30pm local time.
More than 450 ships are now stuck waiting or anchored in open sea at the Red Sea or the Mediterranean close to both ends of the canal.
The backlog is one more strain for international supply chains already stretched by the pandemic as the canal is a conduit for about 12 per cent of global trade.
Saudi Arabia threw a lifeline to shipping companies on Monday saying that vessels docked at Jeddah port would be exempt from paying storage fees for 60 days.
The decision was made to assist supply chains and global transport, with Saudi Arabia's general authority for ports saying Jeddah, which is around 1,000km south of Suez and en route for ships headed to the canal, is able to accommodate a large number of vessels.