Jubilation in Egypt as Ever Given refloated, Suez Canal reopens to traffic

ISMAILIA, Egypt (AFP) — Vessels anchored for nearly a week began moving Monday through the Suez Canal after a grounded megaship was unwedged, sparking relief in a country that depends heavily on the global trade artery.

Easing tailbacks to the north and south, 113 ships will navigate the narrow passage by 8 a.m. local time Tuesday, Suez Canal Authority chief Osama Rabie told reporters in the evening.

He praised the duration of the salvage operation on the MV Ever Given as “record-breaking,” claiming it would have taken three months anywhere else in the world.

Canal services provider Leth Agencies said in a tweet that the 400-meter vessel had been “safely escorted to Great Bitter Lake” by the authority, which noted it was now “anchored” ahead of an investigation, beyond the path of other container ships.

“The relief is palpable that we won’t see a long-term closure of what is an important trade route,” said market analyst Michael Hewson at CMC Markets UK.

In the hours before the ship was dislodged, the tailbacks had reached 425 vessels, and the canal authority estimates it will take over three days to end the congestion.

Maritime data company Lloyd’s List said the blockage had held up an estimated $9.6 billion worth of cargo each day between Asia and Europe, as more than 10 percent of world trade normally passes through the canal.

‘A very tight jam’

In the small canal-side village of Manshiyet al-Rougoula, residents watched in amazement as the immense container ship left the sandy bank.

A father and his family climbed to the roof of their red brick house to get a better view as the ship — laden with at least nine levels of large containers — slowly passed by.

“We are happy to see the boat move (and) thank God,” said one resident who asked not to be named.

A former SCA chairman, Mohab Mamish, expressed pride in the operation, telling AFP: “I am well and truly overjoyed … We were able to get out of a very tight jam.”

On social media too, Egyptians greeted the news with jubilation and shared a flurry of memes, including a video montage of a man representing Egypt triumphantly carrying the ship on his shoulders, to applause from the world.

Ahmed Abbas, a Suez canal employee, shared live footage from the scene on his Facebook account, exclaiming: “Praise be to God, the vessel is finally out! Well done to the SCA boys!”

Egypt has lost some $12-15 million in transit revenues each day that the ship was stuck, according to Rabie.

Dutch salvage company Boskalis said its “team of experts” had worked in “close collaboration” with the canal authority.

The operation, carried out under time pressure and “the watchful eye of the world”, required 13 tug boats, said Boskalis CEO Peter Berdowski.

‘Enormous complexity’

The freed vessel will undergo “an inspection of its seaworthiness”, said Taiwanese company Evergreen, the ship’s operator.

“The outcome of that inspection will determine whether the ship can resume its scheduled service.”

The stern was dislodged early Monday, sparking immediate praise from Egypt’s President Abdel Fattah el-Sissi, even as Boskalis initially warned that the bow would prove more difficult to unwedge.

“Today, Egyptians have been successful in putting to an end the crisis of the stranded ship in the Suez Canal, despite the enormous complexity surrounding the process,” Sissi said.

People watch Ever Given, a Panama-flagged cargo ship, that has been stuck sideways and blocked traffic in Egypt’s Suez Canal, move past after it was set free by salvage teams, March 29, 2021. (AP Photo/Mohamed Elshahed)

Salvage crews have worked around the clock since the accident which was blamed on high winds and poor visibility during a sandstorm, although the canal authority also cited the possibility of human or technical error.

Rescue teams had focused on efforts to remove sand around the ship, which was dredged up to a depth of 18 meters (59 feet).

The crisis forced companies to choose between waiting or rerouting vessels around the southern tip of Africa, which adds 9,000 kilometers (5,500 miles) and over a week of travel to the trip between Asia and Europe.

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