A quarter-mile long vessel that has been stuck in the Suez Canal for more than three days may not be moved until next week, and could cause delays for deliveries to the UK.
The UK Government said British experts are ready to assist if required, while Dutch maritime recovery firm Smit Salvage attempts to dislodge the Ever Given ship which ran aground in the south of the canal on Tuesday.
Oil prices soared after the Ever Given – a Panama-flagged vessel that carries cargo between Asia and Europe and one of world’s largest container ships – ran aground in the Suez canal earlier this week, blocking the major trade artery.
On 23 March, the ship was passing through the canal on its way to Rotterdam from the Malaysian port of Tanjung Pelepas, when it became stuck amid high winds and a dust storm.
The Prime Minister’s official spokesman said: “We are working with the authorities to assess the situation, we stand ready to provide any assistance that we can.
“We have not been approached by any UK companies or organisations with concerns about implications for their shipping plans. However, some goods destined for the UK may be delayed in transit.”
Eight tugboats – the largest of which can tow 160 tonnes – have been working to re-float the vessel in collaboration with a digger removing sand from the side of the canal where the vessel is wedged. The ship weighs approximately 220,000 gross tonnes.
Traffic in both directions on the canal remains blocked, leading to a traffic jam of over a hundred vessels.
‘It could take some time’
Admiral Osama Rabie, chairman and managing director of the Suez Canal Authority (SCA), confirmed on 25 March that navigation through the Suez Canal had been suspended.
Director of policy at the UK Chamber of Shipping, Peter Aylott, said the timeline for removal of the ship will depend on tide and weather conditions in the coming days.
Aylott, who used to sail ships down the Suez canal and knows the area well, said: “The complication is that the tides are obviously different each day, and we’re working towards a high tide at the end of the weekend which would be the best time to try to refloat it.
“But the prevailing wind has caused issues with the vessel being stuck to the bank – it’s difficult for the tugs to pull it away. It could take some time, or it could be that by Sunday we see the vessel refloated.”
He said the ship is “one of the largest” to travel on the canal, carries “around 20,000 containers”, and is around 400 metres long; “You’re looking at something like the Empire State Building in terms of length.”
‘The major issue will be unintended consequences’
“The impact on energy sources such as gas and oil will be an impact on prices, but I doubt it will be an impact on supply because it’s not quite such a just-in-time cargo,” Aylott added.
“I think the major issue will be unintended consequences at what’s in the containers, and that will really depend on what’s on board the vessels.”
Mr Aylott added that groundings in the canal are “quite rare” and the cause is a “matter for an inquiry”, but strong winds on Tuesday may have been a factor.
Guy Platten, secretary general of the International Chamber of Shipping, said the canal carries “about 12 per cent of the world’s goods”.
He added: “To give you some context, that’s 3 billion dollars (£2.2 billion) worth a day, 1.1 trillion dollars (£800 billion) a year, it’s about 18,000 ships use the canal each year, so about 50-plus a day.”