March 26, 2021
An operation to free a giant container ship stuck in the Suez Canal is continuing, with warnings it could take days or even weeks.
The Ever Given, operated by the Taiwanese company Evergreen Marine, is the length of four football pitches and is lying across the southern end of the canal preventing other ships from getting through one of the world’s busiest waterways.
How could the Ever Given be moved?
Graphic showing the three main ways in which salvage teams will attempt to refloat the Ever Given. Tugs could be used to pull the ship away from the banks of the Suez canal. Dredgers could use suction to remove sand and silt from below the vessel. And cargo and fuel could be removed to allow the ship to float higher in the water
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Up to nine tugs have been deployed to free the ship, according to the company which manages the running of the vessel, Bernhard Schulte Shipmanagement (BSM).
The ship is 400 metres (1,300ft) long, wedged diagonally across a canal not much more than 200 metres (656ft) wide.
Using cables or placing themselves directly alongside the stricken ship, the tug boats have been attempting to move it off sand banks on both sides of the canal.
Graphic showing position of tugs and other support vessels around the Ever Given
BSM says an attempt to refloat the ship on Thursday morning failed and that they would try again soon.
As it’s firmly grounded on both banks, all efforts so far have proved extremely difficult to shift it, says Sal Mercogliano, an expert in maritime history at Campbell University in the US.
There is also an operation under way to dredge the canal around the ship.
The Netherlands-based dredging company Boskalis is attempting this, clearing sand and mud from around the hull.
A digger attempts to remove earth around the bow of the Ever Given, which is blocking the Suez Canal, Egypt (25 March 2021)
The chief executive of Boskalis, Peter Berdowski, says “it’s an enormous weight on the sand” that will take a combination of dredging, tugging and removing weight from the ship to free it.
Maritime expert Sal Mercogliano says the Suez Canal is continually being dredged anyway to keep it passable.
“Large machines stick down into the water and basically pull dirt up from the bottom, which you can then deposit onshore.”
The channel was expanded in 2015 to allow vessels the size of the Ever Given to pass through.
The next stage in efforts to re-float the 200,000 tonne vessel would be to remove fuel and cargo.
A ship the size of the Ever Given can carry as many as 20,000 twenty-foot containers.
There are, however, dangers associated with doing this, as it could cause damage and even unbalance the ship.
It would also be a delicate and time-consuming operation.
“You would have to bring large floating cranes – but anything you do right now you would have to calculate the stability of the vessel, you have to determine how it would affect the stability,” says Dr Mercogliano.
“Worst case scenario is that she breaks in half because of [uneven] weight distributions.”
Also, trying to remove freight containers using floating cranes could be tricky given how high they are stacked up on the ship.
Draining fuel from the ship’s tanks would be an easier operation, but may well not reduce the weight sufficiently.