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Cargo ship remains stuck in Egypt's Suez Canal for fifth day after effort to free it failed

Suez Canal's blockage impact on world trade
Suez Canal's blockage impact on world trade 03:15

A giant container ship remained stuck sideways in Egypt's Suez Canal for a fifth day Saturday, as authorities prepared to make new attempts to free the vessel and reopen a crucial east-west waterway for global shipping.

The Ever Given's owners say a gust of wind pushed it and its huge cargo of more than 20,000 shipping containers sideways in the canal on Tuesday, wedging it between the canal's sandy banks. The massive vessel got stuck in a single-lane stretch of the canal a few miles from its southern entrance.

Bernhard Schulte Shipmanagement, the technical manager of the Ever Given, said an attempt Friday to free it failed.

Suez Canal traffic blocked by massive ship in Egypt
A general view of Ever Given, which is stuck in the Suez canal.  Samuel Mohsen/picture alliance via Getty Images

Plans were in the works to pump water from interior spaces of the vessel, and two more tugs should arrive by Sunday to join others already trying to move the massive ship, it said.

An official at the Suez Canal Authority said they planned to make at least two attempts Saturday to free the vessel when the high tide goes down.

A maritime traffic jam grew to around 280 vessels Saturday outside the Suez Canal, according to canal service provider Leth Agencies. Some vessels began changing course and dozens of ships were still en route to the waterway, according to the data firm Refinitiv.

Egypt Suez Canal
A satellite image from Cnes2021, Distribution Airbus DS, shows the cargo ship MV Ever Given stuck in the Suez Canal near Suez, Egypt, as seen March 25, 2021. Cnes2021/Distribution Airbus DS/AP

Shoei Kisen President Yukito Higaki told a news conference at company headquarters in Imabari in western Japan that 10 tugboats were deployed and workers were dredging the banks and sea floor near the vessel's bow to try to get it afloat again as the high tide starts to go out.

Shoei Kisen said in a statement Saturday the company was considering removing containers to lighten the vessel if refloating efforts fail, but that would be a difficult operation.

The White House said it has offered to help Egypt reopen the canal. "We have equipment and capacity that most countries don't have and we're seeing what we can do and what help we can be," President Joe Biden told reporters Friday.

A prolonged closure of the crucial waterway would cause delays in the global shipment chain. Some 19,000 vessels passed through the canal last year, according to official figures. About 10% of world trade flows through the canal, which is particularly crucial for transporting oil. The closure could affect oil and gas shipments to Europe from the Middle East.

It remained unclear how long the blockage would last. Even after reopening the canal that links factories in Asia to consumers in Europe, the waiting containers are likely to arrive at busy ports, forcing them to face additional delays before offloading.

Apparently anticipating long delays, the owners of the stuck vessel diverted a sister ship, the Ever Greet, on a course around Africa instead, according to satellite data.

Others also are being diverted. The liquid natural gas carrier Pan Americas changed course in the mid-Atlantic, now aiming south to go around the southern tip of Africa, according to satellite data from MarineTraffic.com. 

The Financial Times reported on Friday that a number of shipping groups had contacted the U.S. Navy's Fifth Fleet over maritime security concerns for vessels that do chose to sail south around Africa, which would put them in waters off the continent's eastern coast that have a long history of piracy.

"Africa has the risk of piracy, especially in east Africa," Zhao Qing-feng of the China Shipowners' Association in Shanghai, told the FT, saying owners could need to hire extra security forces to board their vessels before making the extended journey.

It's just one more factor that could cause a serious slowdown and a potential price-hike for goods moving to Europe and the U.S. from Asia, and one more headache for a global supply-chain system already strained by the coronavirus pandemic.

Egyptian authorities have prohibited media access to the site. The canal authority said its head, Lieutenant General Osama Rabei, would hold a news conference Saturday in the city of Suez, a few kilometers (miles) from the site of the vessel.

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