The MV Ever Given was refloated and the Suez Canal reopened Monday, sparking relief almost a week after the huge container ship got stuck during a sandstorm and blocked a major artery for global trade.
AFP correspondents observed tugboat crews sounding their foghorns in celebration after the Ever Given, a cargo megaship the length of four football fields, was dislodged from the banks of the Suez.
World oil prices eased on the news of the reopening of the waterway that connects the Mediterranean and Red Sea and through which more than 10 percent of world trade passes.
The head of the Suez Canal Authority, Admiral Osama Rabie, around 3pm local time “announced the resumption of shipping traffic in the Suez Canal,” the authority said in a statement.
The SCA has cautioned, however, that it will take more than three days to clear the traffic jams of ships that were stuck at the northern and southern ends of the canal.
By the end of the drama, the tailback had reached 425 vessels.
Dutch company SMIT Salvage, which played a key role in the 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 approximately 30,000 cubic meters of sand, said a statement by Peter Berdowski, CEO of its parent company Boskalis.
The breakthrough followed what appeared to be a setback and came moments after the ship had temporarily settled back into the diagonal position it had been stuck in after running aground last Tuesday.
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.
Tug boat flotilla
The Japanese-owned ship had been partially dislodged early Monday, triggering immediate praise from Egypt’s President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi.
“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,” Sisi said.
Egypt was estimated to have lost some $12-14 million in revenue from the canal for each day it was closed, according to the canal authority.
After the 200,000-tonne ship was refloated, it was expected to take around three and a half days to clear the traffic jam of ships, Rabie said, praising rescue efforts.
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.
They had focussed on efforts to remove sand around the ship, which was cleared up to a depth of 18 metres (59 feet), SCA spokesman George Safwat said Sunday.
The crisis had forced companies to choose between waiting or rerouting vessels around Africa, which adds 9,000 kilometres (5,500 miles) and over a week of travel to the trip between Asia and Europe.
Russia said it could give assistance Sunday, following other countries including the United States that have made similar offers.
In a sign of the knock-on effects from the Suez blockage, authorities in war-wracked Syria said the crisis had hit its fuel imports from Iran and forced it to ration already scarce supplies.
Romania’s animal health agency said 11 ships carrying livestock out of the country were also impacted, while the charity Animals International warned of a potential “tragedy” affecting some 130,000 animals.