Billions of dollars in goods held up in 'Ever Given' logjam on Suez

Goods worth up to $9.6bn are trapped by stuck container ship

Billions of dollars of goods, from Ikea furnishings to tens of thousands of livestock, are stuck in a maritime traffic jam caused by the Suez Canal blockage.

More than 360 ships have been stranded in the Mediterranean to the north and the Red Sea to the south, and in holding zones, since the giant container ship MV Ever Given on Tuesday became wedged across the Suez.

Industry experts have estimated the total value of goods marooned at sea at up to $9.6 billion.

About 1.74 million barrels of oil a day are normally shipped through the canal, but 80 per cent of Gulf exports to Europe pass through the Sumed pipeline that crosses Egypt, said Paola Rodriguez Masiu of Rystad Energy.

MarineTraffic said about 100 ships loaded with oil or refined products were in holding areas on Sunday.

Crude prices shot up on Wednesday in response to the Suez blockage, before dropping the next day.

But Syria, which has been hit by sanctions, on Saturday announced more fuel rationing after the hold-up delayed a shipment of oil products from its ally, Iran.

About 130,000 head of livestock on 11 ships sent from Romania have also been held up.

"My greatest fear is that animals run out of food and water and they get stuck on the ships because they cannot be unloaded somewhere else for paperwork reasons," Gerit Weidinger, EU co-ordinator for NGO Animals International, told The Guardian.

Egypt has sent fodder and three teams of vets to examine the livestock stuck at sea, some bound for Jordan.

Sweden's Ikea said it had 110 containers on the stricken Ever Given  and other ships in the traffic jam.

"The blockage of the Suez Canal is an additional constraint to an already challenging and volatile situation for global supply chains, brought on by the pandemic," Ikea said.

The Van Rees Group in Rotterdam said 80 containers of tea were trapped at sea on 15 ships, and there could be "chaos" for the company as supplies dried up.

Dave Hinton, owner of a timber company in north-west England, said he had a consignment of French oak stuck on a ship.

The oak had been sent for reprocessing into veneered flooring in China, and was on its way back to a customer in Britain, Mr Hinton told BBC Radio on Friday.

"I've spoken to my customer and told him the bad news that his floor was blocking the Suez Canal. He didn't believe me. He thought I was pulling his leg."

Shipping giants such as Denmark's Maersk have rerouted ships to the longer journey around South Africa's Cape of Good Hope, adding at least seven days to the voyage.

Even if the Ever Given were dislodged, Maersk on Saturday estimated that it would take between three and six days for the stranded ships to pass through the canal.

The company said that 32 Maersk and partner vessels would be directly affected by the end of the weekend, with 15 rerouted, and the numbers could increase unless the canal was reopened.

Lloyd's List said up to 90 per cent of the affected cargo is not insured against delays.

Two more tugboats were on their way on Sunday to join attempts to refloat the massive container ship.

The Dutch-flagged Alp Guard and the Italian-flagged Carlo Magno are believed to have arrived near the city of Suez at the southern mouth of the Suez Canal.

The two tugs have a combined pulling power of almost 500 tonnes.

They will join a dozen other tugboats that involved in trying to refloat the ship.

There were expected to be two attempts coinciding with tides on Sunday to free the Panama-flagged, 400-metre Ever Given, the first about midday and a second in the evening.

Repeated failures to refloat the 200,000-tonne vessel are likely to force the Suez Canal Authority to resort to unload the vessel, which is carrying 18,300 containers.

That delicate operation could take days to complete and will probably involve container ships equipped with cranes.

“It is our last-resort scenario,” the authority's chief, Admiral Osama Rabie, said on Saturday.

For now, hopes are pinned on the power of the two extra tugs as dredging operations continue, sucking sand from under the vessel.

Admiral Rabie on Sunday said the latest attempt to refloat the vessel on Saturday involved the 12 tugboats, with two pulling the front of the ship and the rest pushing its stern southward.

He did not say when the new tugboats, being built in a shipyard at Port Said, the coastal city on the northern tip of the canal, would join the effort.

Also on Sunday, Admiral Rabie said the main dredger had removed 27,000 cubic metres of sand, reaching a depth of 18 metres.

Workers have removed thousands of tonnes of ballast from the Ever Given.

Admiral Rabie said 9,000 tonnes of ballast water were pumped out to lighten the vessel.

“We have to deal with difficult soil and strong tides in addition to the size of the boat, its height and the large number of containers it is carrying,” he said.

“It is very difficult to give a precise time for resolving the problem."

In the meantime, ships continue to arrive at either end of the canal, waiting to pass.

Admiral Rabie announced the closure of the waterway on Thursday.

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