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Suez Canal: Efforts to free ship continue as preparations are made to remove cargo

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Suban Abdulla
·5 min read
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Satellite shows the stuck container ship 'Ever Given' on the Suez Canal, in Egypt, on March 27, 2021. Photo: Gokturk-1 Observation Satellite/Anadolu Agency via Getty Images

A giant cargo ship blocking the Suez Canal, one of the world's busiest waterways, remains stuck after authorities tried and failed to make use of high water levels on Saturday.

Despite that, canal officials have said that some progress has been made amid efforts to reopen the crucial trade route. On Saturday 14 tugboats managed to move the ship "30 degrees from left and right."

The Suez Canal Authority (SCA) chief, Osama Rabie, said on Sunday that although the vessel was still stuck there were "positive indicators" from the past two days' efforts.

"The rudder was not moving and it is now moving, the propeller is working now, there was no water underneath the bow, and now there is water under it, and yesterday there was a 4m (13ft) deviation in the bow and the stern," Rabie said.

So far, dredgers have been able to shift 27,000 cubic metres of sand – this is equal to a depth of 18 meters or approximately 60ft.

However, alternative options are being geared up to help move the rescue mission along.

Egypt's president Abdel Fattah al-Sisi ordered preparations to lighten the load of the stranded ship on Sunday. He said that rescue teams should get ready for the possible removal of the 18,300 containers on board the vessel.

The Ever Given weighs 200,000-tonne and is capable of carrying 20,000 shipping containers.

Officials have also debunked earlier reports that claimed wind gusts were behind the stranding. Rabie said on Saturday that "strong winds and weather factors were not the main reasons for the ship’s grounding, there may have been technical or human errors."

Global supply chains have been crippled since Tuesday, after the 400-metre Panama-flagged Ever Given ship got stuck sideways in the Suez. This has meant that more than 300 vessels have been tailing back from the Suez.

It comes after the Japanese owners of the vessel blocking the Suez Canal said that an attempt will be made to refloat the vessel by taking advantage of tidal movements, which could see the ship dislodged soon.

At a press conference on Friday, the president of Shoei Kisen, Yukito Higaki told local media that 10 tugboats had been deployed to dredge the banks and canal bottom. The tugboats will move the ship as dredgers continue to vacuum up sand from beneath it and mud caked to its side.

WATCH: Two tugboats speed to Egypt's Suez Canal

Meanwhile, Syria has announced that it has begun rationing fuel as the logjam stretches into a sixth day, impacting vital supplies to the war-torn country and worsening oil shortages. The country had already announced over 50% increase in the price of petrol in mid-March.

The Syrian oil ministry said that the blockage slowed arrival of a vessel carrying fuel and oil products from Iran. Oil minister Bassam Tomeh told state TV the cargo was due to arrive at the port of Banias on Friday.

Tomeh said that if the crisis persisted, the ship may re-route around the southern tip of Africa, an expensive detour many firms have been forced to consider to get around the blockage.

Before the war in 2011, the country enjoyed a relative energy freedom, but the oil minister said that in the last 10 years an estimated $91.5bn (£66.4bn) in revenue has been wiped from hydrocarbons. Pre-war oil production was 400,000 barrels a day, compared with 24,000 in 2019.

READ MORE: What Suez Canal blockage could mean for global trade

On Friday, seven tankers carrying liquefied natural gas (LNG) were diverted. Data intelligence firm Kpler said that three of the tankers were being diverted towards the longer route around Africa, via the Cape of Good Hope.

The majority of the diverted tankers, which were originally destined for the Suez were now headed elsewhere, according to Kpler. "A total of 16 LNG vessels’ planned transit via the route will be affected if the congestion persists until the end of this week," Kpler analyst Rebecca Chia said.

"Considerable delays in the loading schedule at Ras Laffan" for the start of April due to the congestion are also expected, Chia added.

A diversion around Africa could add about two weeks to ships' journeys and extra fuel costs.

The traffic-jam will have severe repercussions on global trade, bringing 13% of the world’s trade to a halt. According to shipping data, the ship is holding up an estimated £9.6bn of goods each day.

The Suez Canal is an artificial sea-level waterway in Egypt connecting the Mediterranean Sea to the Red Sea.

Built in 1869, the Suez Canal is used by around 50 vessels per day, according to Panjiva, the supply chain research unit of S&P Global Market Intelligence. Container ships accounted for 52.7% of the tonnage in 2019 transiting the canal including shipments from Asia to Europe and the US east coast as well as vice-versa.

Oil prices were driven higher by the ordeal, with Brent futures (BZ=F) and Crude oil (CL=F) rising as much as 4% on Friday. But, prices crashed 6% earlier in the week on Tuesday as the crisis began and amid fears that the COVID-19 third wave could lead to oversupply in the market.

WATCH: Shipping rates and oil prices jump on Suez block