Mohammad Ahmad is the Suez Canal's longest-serving marine dredger, serving 25 years alone on the now-famous Mashour boat. But nothing in his 30-year career came close to the monumental task of refloating the Ever Given.
Almost as tall as Sydney Opera House, the Panamanian-flagged container ship was lodged in the Suez Canal for nearly a week, blocking more than 400 ships from going through one of world's busiest trade routes. It was eventually refloated on Monday at 3pm local time.
"I worked on every part of the Canal during my career. Traffic never stopped for a single day," Mr Ahmad, 56, told The National.
The day after the ship became lodged in the bank, he and his team got to work.
“We went on little sleep. Most ships would be out in two hours. This took days,” he said.
The work was gruelling, he said, but the effort was worth it.
“This was the most important work I had ever done. We all cried from joy when it was finally refloated.”
A video of the Mashour's crew celebrating moments after the Ever Given was finally set free was widely shared on social media.
“This was a national duty. We are proud to have partaken in it with numerous other team members. It was a group effort,” Mr Ahmad said.
The 400-metre ship was carrying over 13,000 tonnes of cargo and with a 16-metre draft, dredgers had dig underneath to free it.
The draft is how deep the ship sinks into the water when it is fully laden.
“The ship was buried three metres into the canal bed which meant we had to dig 18 metres under and around it to dislodge it,” he said.
The crew had to work carefully to avoid causing damage to the ship, which could have kept the vessel trapped for longer.
“The ship could have also slid. Our lives were in danger. But we felt OK with being hurt if it meant the problem was over,” Mr Ahmad said.
The pressure was mounting on all parties involved in the rescue mission as oil prices soared and $9.6 billion of ship traffic a day was being held up.
By the time the ship was finally able to resume its course, dredgers alone had managed to clear 27,000 tonnes of sand and mud from beneath and around the ship.
Suez Canal authorities maintained they were not responsible for the incident and had suffered losses of $12-15 million in revenue each day from it.
“The Suez Canal is not to blame for the incident,” Admiral Osama Rabie, the canal authority’s chairman, said on Monday.
“We are the injured party.”