CAIRO – With shipping traffic stalled for a second day Thursday, Egypt’s Suez Canal Authority continued to work to refloat a gigantic container ship blocking the canal.
Oussama Rabieh, who heads the Suez Canal Authority, told Egyptian TV that tugboats were trying to maneuver the nearly 400-meter Ever Given so that it was able to move. He said bad weather was responsible for the incident.
The Canal Authority, he said, tries to anticipate sand or windstorms so that ships are not likely to suffer damage from bad weather. Some ships, he noted, were allowed to remain in one of the canal’s lakes for safety reasons.
The container ship is longer than the width of the Suez Canal at the point where the vessel became wedged. Some sources said a wind gust was responsible for pushing the ship into the side of the canal.
The Japanese company that runs the ship apologized to Egypt on Thursday for creating a massive traffic jam.
The vessel, which carries approximately 20,000 shipping containers, making it one of the largest in the world, can be destabilized by gusts of wind because of the number of containers stacked on top of each other.
Paul Sullivan, a professor at the Washington-based U.S. National Defense University, told VOA that the current traffic jam on the Suez Canal, which is responsible for 12% of world trade, was likely to be a difficult and costly situation.
“It’s not going to be an easy operation. It’s probably going to be an expensive one,” he said. “It’s already very expensive because so many ships have been blocked from going through. More than likely there will be massive lawsuits from other shipping companies and people who expected their goods and parts to arrive on time.”
Sullivan said that unless canal authorities were negligent in advising the ship, Egypt was not likely to be held responsible for what happened.
“I don’t think Egypt would be responsible for [the mess] unless some connection can be proven to not directing the ship properly or not mentioning the sandstorm coming through,” he said. “But the real responsibility is going to be on the part of the ship itself, and Egypt will most likely fine that shipping company and the people involved in this incident a very large sum.”
Egypt earns between $5 billion and $6 billion each year in revenues from the Suez Canal.
“This is a great embarrassment to Egypt [and it] is losing massive amounts in Suez Canal revenues” from the current blockage, Sullivan said.
Arab media were reporting that the Suez Canal Authority had requested assistance from a company in the Netherlands, the destination of the Ever Given, to help refloat the ship. VOA could not independently confirm the information.
Oil prices have reportedly risen about $5 a barrel because of the blockage of the canal. Around 50 ships a day pass through the Suez Canal, but most traffic is hunkering down at various locations along the waterway. Many ship crews are reportedly very tired since host ports have not allowed them to leave their vessels because of the coronavirus pandemic.
Source: Voice of America