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Ever Given: Ship freed at last, probe begins into Suez drama

At just after 3 pm local time on Monday, the Ever Given was dislodged from a sand bank in the Suez Canal by tugboats pushing and pulling to rock it loose.
Ship Ever Given, one of the world's largest container ships, is seen after it was fully floated in Suez Canal, Egypt.(Reuters)
Published on Mar 31, 2021 03:02 AM IST
Agencies | , Suez

In the end, it took roughly six days and seven hours to undo the minutes of drama that exposed the vulnerability of global trade and captivated the world. It may take longer to figure out how to avoid it happening again.

At just after 3 pm local time on Monday, the Ever Given was dislodged from a sand bank in the Suez Canal by tugboats pushing and pulling to rock it loose. To cheers from the dozens of crew working on the effort to refloat it and relief among Egyptian authorities, the enormous 21st century container ship that got stuck in a waterway first opened in 1869 was free. The backlog of about 400 ships started moving that evening.

“Despite the difficult situation we’ve confronted, Egyptians stood beside their leadership and their country and endured the crises and registered their joy,” President Abdel Fattah El-Sisi declared at a press conference on Tuesday alongside Osama Rabie, the chief executive of the Suez Canal Authority (SCA).

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Dutch company Boskalis, which played a key role in the rescue operation, said its “team of experts, working in close collaboration with the Suez Canal Authority, successfully refloated” the ship at 3:05 pm local time. The operation, carried out under time pressure and “the watchful eye of the world”, required 13 tug boats and the dredging of some 30,000 cubic meters of sand, said Peter Berdowski, CEO of Boskalis.

The freed vessel was travelling north toward the Great Bitter Lake, through which the canal passes, “for an inspection of its seaworthiness,” said the Taiwan company Evergreen which operates the ship. “The outcome of that inspection will determine whether the ship can resume its scheduled service.”

‘Enormous complexity’

There could be significant damage to the ship, Capt John Konrad, the founder and CEO of the shipping news website gcaptain.com, said. Stuck for days across the canal, the ship’s middle rose and fell with the tide, bending up and down under the tremendous weight of some 20,000 containers across its 400-meter (quarter-mile) length. On Monday, when workers partially floated the ship, all that pressure came forward to its bow.

Salvage crews have been working around the clock ever since the accident which has been blamed on high winds and poor visibility during a sandstorm, although the canal authority also cited the possibility of human error.

There will be questions about speed, whether the Ever Given should have employed tugs and if it should have braved the journey through the wind at all. Egyptian investigators, led by a canal authority committee, will analyse recordings from the deck, including conversations among crew.

When blame gets assigned, it will likely lead to years of litigation to recoup the costs of repairing the ship, fixing the canal and reimbursing those who saw their cargo shipments disrupted. Since the vessel is owned by a Japanese firm, operated by a Taiwanese shipper, flagged in Panama and now stuck in Egypt, matters quickly become an international morass.

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