Egypt’s Suez Canal chief said on Saturday that “technical or human errors” could be the cause of the grounding of a huge container ship blocking the vital waterway, causing a backlog of more than 300 ships.
Osama Rabie, head of the Suez Canal Authority, told reporters the ship could be afloat again on Sunday evening.
The crisis has crippled global supply chains, forcing freight companies to choose between the wait or the expensive option of re-routing ships around Africa’s southern tip.
Officials had previously blamed 40-knot gusts and a sandstorm for the crash.
But Rabie said on Saturday that “strong winds and meteorological factors” were not solely responsible, saying “there may have been technical or human errors”.
When asked when the ship could be released, he made an optimistic note.
“We could finish today or tomorrow (Sunday), depending on the responsiveness of the ship” to the tides, he said.
More than 320 ships carrying billions of dollars in goods are now stranded at either end of the vital shipping lane connecting Asia to Europe.
The 193 kilometer (120 mile) channel from the Red Sea to the Mediterranean is vital for shipping between Asia and Europe, with the alternate route around the Cape of Good Hope costing an additional 12 days at sea.
Egypt loses around $ 12-14 million in canal revenue for each day it is closed, Rabie added.
When is he going to move?
The MV Ever Given, which is longer than four football pitches, has been stuck diagonally across the canal since Tuesday, blocking it in either direction.
In a sign of the ripple effects, Syrian authorities said on Saturday they had been forced to ration already scarce fuel supplies.
The Suez suspension “had an impact on oil imports into Syria and slowed down the arrival of a ship carrying fuel and petroleum products” from the Iranian government ally, the Syrian oil ministry said.
And Romania’s Animal Health Agency said on Saturday that 11 ships carrying cattle out of the country had been affected by the blockage. The NGO Animals International has warned of a potential “tragedy” affecting some 130,000 animals.
People involved in the rescue efforts have given varying predictions about how long it would take to reopen the canal.
Yukito Higaki, chairman of Japanese firm Shoei Kisen, owner of the MV Ever Given, told local media on Friday that the ship could be released by the end of Saturday.
The executive director of Royal Boskalis, the parent company of Smit Salvage which is in charge of the rescue operation, suggested that the ship could be afloat again “early next week”.
Peter Berdowski said on Friday that a crane was being installed to remove hundreds of containers from the ship’s foredeck.
But Nick Sloane, a South African rescue master tasked with refloating the Italian cruise liner Costa Concordia, said it could cause “a very long delay”.
The blockage caused a huge backlog of ships at the Red Sea and Mediterranean ends of the canal, causing significant delays in the delivery of oil and other products.
Bernhard Schulte Shipmanagement (BSM) – the ship’s technical director – said efforts were focused on “dredging to remove sand and mud from the port side of the bow of the ship”.
Rabie told reporters on Saturday that 14 tugs had been deployed to help refloat the ship.
“ Too high ” stakes
But the vessel with a gross tonnage of 219,000 and a deadweight of 199,000 has yet to budge, forcing global shipping giant Maersk and Germany’s Hapag-Lloyd to consider rerouting around Africa.
Lloyd’s List, a shipping data and information company, said Evergreen’s Ever Greet has already done so, adding that the blockage is holding around $ 9.6 billion in cargo each day between Asia. and Europe.
Responsibility for these losses could be difficult to establish, according to Laleh Khalili, professor of politics at Queen Mary University in London.
The “divide in ownership and operation across different legal jurisdictions and national borders” makes it more difficult to assign liability for marine accidents, she wrote in the Washington Post on Friday.
Suez traffic has been disrupted several times in the past, most notably after the nationalization of the operating company by Egypt in 1956.
This caused an aborted invasion by Britain, France and Israel. Then, during the Six Day War, Egypt imposed a blockade to prevent Israeli ships from using the canal until 1975.
As efforts intensify to free Ever Given, rescue teams hope to take advantage of a high spring tide that kicks off Sunday evening.
Plamen Natzkoff, an expert at VesselsValue, said the teams will likely step up their efforts in the coming days to make the most of this opportunity.
“If they fail to dislodge it during this high tide, the next high tide will not be there for another two weeks, and that becomes problematic,” he said.
“The stakes are too high to take months.”
(Except for the title, this story was not edited by NDTV staff and is posted from a syndicated feed.)