Japanese owner says facing “extreme difficulty” refloating ship stuck in Suez Canal, with at least 150 vessels, waiting to pass after the skyscraper-sized cargo vessel was wedged across the vital waterway, imperilling global shipping.

Ships anchor in Lake Timsah, Ismailia, halfway through Egypt’s Suez canal on Thursday, on March 25, 2021.
Ships anchor in Lake Timsah, Ismailia, halfway through Egypt’s Suez canal on Thursday, on March 25, 2021. (AP)

The Japanese owner of a skyscraper-sized cargo ship wedged across Egypt’s Suez Canal has apologised for the incident that's imperling global shipping.

Shoei Kisen, apologised over the “tremendous worry” that the accident has caused to the other vessels and their involved parties.

Shoei Kisen said it is cooperating with its technical management company and the local authorities to get the ship afloat, but “the operation is extremely difficult.”

It added: “We are extremely sorry for causing tremendous worry to the ships that are traveling or schedule to travel in the Suez Canal, and all the related people.”

At least 150 vessels are waiting to use the Suez Canal after a skyscraper-sized cargo ship wedged across the vital waterway. That’s according to canal service provider Leth Agencies.

READ MORE: Suez traffic redirected to old channel as skyscraper-sized ship stranded

Efforts continue to free vessel

It says the backup Thursday affected ships both needing to travel into the Mediterranean and the Red Seas.

The Ever Given, a Panama-flagged ship that carries cargo between Asia and Europe, ran aground Tuesday in the narrow, man-made canal dividing continental Africa from the Sinai Peninsula. It remains unclear when the obstruction will be cleared.

The stuck cargo ship imperilled global shipping at least 150 other vessels needing to pass through the crucial waterway idled waiting for the obstruction to clear, authorities said.

Authorities began work again to free the vessel Thursday morning after halting for the night, an Egyptian canal authority official said. The official, who spoke on condition of anonymity as he wasn't authorised to speak to journalists, said workers hoped to avoid offloading containers from the vessel as it would be a dayslong effort to do so.

So far, dredgers have tried to clear silt around the massive ship. Tug boats nudged the vessel alongside it, trying to gain momentum. From the shore, at least one backhoe dug into the canal's sandy banks, suggesting the bow of the ship had plowed into it.

Bernhard Schulte Ship management, the company that manages the Ever Given, said the ship's 25-member crew are safe and accounted for. The ship had two pilots from Egypt's canal authority aboard the vessel to guide it when the grounding happened around 7:45 a.m. Tuesday, the company said.

High winds and sandstorm

Canal service provider Leth Agencies said at least 150 ships were waiting for the Ever Given to be cleared, including vessels near Port Said on the Mediterranean Sea, Port Suez on the Red Sea and those already stuck in the canal system on Egypt's Great Bitter Lake.

Cargo ships already behind the Ever Given in the canal will be reversed south back to Port Suez to free the channel, Leth Agencies said. Authorities hope to do the same to the Ever Given when they can free it.

Evergreen Marine Corp., a major Taiwan-based shipping company that operates the ship, said in a statement that the Ever Given had been overcome by strong winds as it entered the canal from the Red Sea but none of its containers had sunk.

An Egyptian official, who spoke to The Associated Press on condition of anonymity because he wasn’t authorised to brief journalists, similarly blamed a strong wind. Egyptian forecasters said high winds and a sandstorm plagued the area Tuesday, with winds gusting as much as 50 kilometers (30 miles) per hour.

An initial report suggested the ship suffered a power blackout before the incident, something Bernhard Schulte Ship management denied Thursday.

“Initial investigations rule out any mechanical or engine failure as a cause of the grounding,” the company said.

Tuesday marked the second major crash involving the Ever Given in recent years. In 2019, the cargo ship ran into a small ferry moored on the Elbe River in the German port city of Hamburg. Authorities at the time blamed strong wind for the collision, which severely damaged the ferry.

The closure could affect oil and gas shipments to Europe from the Mideast, which rely on the canal to avoid sailing around Africa. The price of international benchmark Brent crude stood at over $63 a barrel Thursday.

Disruption to billion worth of goods

Overall, famed shipping journal Lloyd's List estimates each day the Suez Canal is closed disrupts over $9 billion worth of goods that should be passing through the waterway. A quarter of all Suez Canal traffic a day comes from container ships like the Ever Given, the journal said.

The Ever Given, built in 2018 with a length of nearly 400 meters (a quarter mile) and a width of 59 meters (193 feet), is among the largest cargo ships in the world. It can carry some 20,000 containers at a time. It previously had been at ports in China before heading toward Rotterdam in the Netherlands.

A crucial link for oil, natural gas and cargo

Opened in 1869, the Suez Canal provides a crucial link for oil, natural gas and cargo. It also remains one of Egypt’s top foreign currency earners. In 2015, the government of President Abdel Fattah El Sisi completed a major expansion of the canal, allowing it to accommodate the world’s largest vessels. However, the Ever Given ran aground south of that new portion of the canal.

The stranding Tuesday marks just the latest to affect mariners amid the pandemic. Hundreds of thousands have been stuck aboard vessels due to the pandemic. Meanwhile, demands on shipping have increased, adding to the pressure on tired sailors.

READ MORE: Suez Canal marks 150 years of troubled history

Source: AP