The container ship blocking the Suez Canal may not be moved until next week or even several more weeks’ time – and there are fears the incident could cause delays for UK-bound deliveries.
Efforts have resumed to free the 400m (1,312ft) Ever Given as eight tug boats worked to drag the huge vessel to deeper water after it ran aground and blocked transit in both directions through one of the world’s busiest shipping lanes on Tuesday.
The ship’s operator and Egyptian officials blamed winds gusting up to 30mph, along with a sandstorm sweeping the area, for the vessel getting stuck diagonally across the 205-metre wide canal stretch.
Dredgers are also trying to clear mud and sand from underneath it in the hope it will eventually dislodge.
At least 150 vessels, including other container ships carrying oil, gas and grains, are backed up either side of the blockage in Egypt, resulting in one of the worst marine jams the world has seen in decades.
The company trying to free the ship has said it might take “weeks” to move the Ever Given, which may mean the other boats are forced to reroute.
“We can’t exclude it might take weeks, depending on the situation,” chief executive of Dutch firm Boskalis, Peter Berdowski, told the Dutch TV programme Nieuwsuur.
“It’s like an enormous beached whale,” he added.
The Japanese owner of the Ever Given, a company called Shoei Kisen Kaisha, has apologised for the disruption and said work to free the ship “has been extremely difficult”, adding it was not clear when the vessel would float again.
The UK government said British experts are ready to assist if required.
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.”
Admiral Osama Rabie, chairman and managing director of the Suez Canal Authority (SCA), has confirmed that navigation through the 120 mile-long canal had been suspended.
Experts say that if traffic does not start to move in the next two days, ships will have to be diverted around the southern tip of Africa – adding a week to their journey times.
Mr Berdowski said officials are considering removing containers, oil and water from the Ever Given to make it easier to move.
But marine services firm GAC told its affected clients that wind conditions and the sheer size of the vessel are “hindering operations”.
And director of policy at the UK Chamber of Shipping, Peter Aylott, said the timeline for moving the ship will depend on tide and weather conditions in the coming days.
He 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.”
The Ever Given was built in 2018 and at a quarter of a mile long and 193ft wide is among the largest cargo ships in the world.
It weighs 224,000 tonnes and can carry 20,000 containers at a time.
The Panama-registered ship had left China and was heading towards Rotterdam in the Netherlands when it became stuck.
Evergreen Marine, the company leasing the vessel, said the ship owner told them it “was suspected of being hit by a sudden strong wind, causing the hull to deviate from the waterway and accidentally hit the bottom and run aground”.
The Suez Canal Authority said in a statement it had lost “the ability to steer amid high winds and a dust storm”.
According to marine agent GAC, it suffered a blackout when it was travelling northwards in a convoy.
This week is not the first time it has been involved in a crash, however.
In 2019 the ship ran into a small ferry moored on the Elbe River in the German port of Hamburg in high winds, severely damaging the ferry.
The current blockage is having a dramatic knock-on effect to world trade and oil prices.
Around 30% of global container shipping volumes pass through the Suez Canal each day.
Opened in 1869, the waterway connects the Mediterranean to the Red Sea, and is the quickest maritime link between Asia and Europe.