Egypt says US offers assistance as operations to free cargo ship gather momentum

Egypt says US offers assistance as operations to free cargo ship gather momentum
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March 26th, 2021 | ABC News Radio

By HATEM MAHER, ABC News

(NEW YORK) — Egypt on Friday said the United States has offered assistance to free a stranded cargo ship in the Suez Canal that blocked trade movement, with one senior official saying it would likely take “a maximum of three days” to clear navigation in the vital waterway.

Ever Given, a 224,000-ton ship registered in Panama that is 400 meters long and 59 meters wide, was on its way from China to the Dutch port city of Rotterdam when it became stuck near the southern end of the Suez Canal Tuesday morning.

Having been stranded in a single-lane stretch of the canal, Ever Given’s accident, which was blamed by officials on weather conditions and strong winds, brought traffic to a virtual standstill in the vital artery that provides the shortest sea link between Asia and Europe.

Egypt’s efforts to pull the gigantic ship using nine tugboats yielded little progress in the past few days. The country hired Dutch firm Smit Salvage and Japan’s Nippon Salvage to take part in the rescue operations, while the United States has also offered to join efforts to re-float the vessel.

“The Suez Canal Authority (SCA) values the offer of the United States of America to contribute to these efforts,” the SCA said in a statement. “We look forward to cooperating with the U.S. in this regard in appreciation of this good initiative which confirms the friendly relations and cooperation between the two countries.”

Efforts to dislodge the ship gathered momentum on Friday, with dredgers removing 17,000 cubic meters of sand and mud from the bow of the vessel, coming close to a target of 20,000 cubic meters that would pave the way for tugboats to continue their mission.

With movement in the Suez Canal constituting about 10% of international maritime trade and hundreds of ships standing idle on the northern and southern ends, time is of the essence.

Lt. Gen. Mohab Mamish, a former Navy commander who headed the SCA from 2012 to 2019 and oversaw the construction of an $8 billion two-lane extension to the Suez Canal six years ago, offered a more optimistic outlook than what some experts, including the chairman of Smit Salvage, had estimated.

“It would take three days maximum (to re-float the vessel) unless we encounter unforeseen obstacles, such as rocky areas for example,” Mamish, now an adviser to Egyptian President Abdel Fattah El Sisi, told ABC News.

He went on, “It’s a step-by-step process. Firstly, we do our inspection above and beneath the water … and then we reduce the load on the ship by removing fuel and water so that once it starts shaking a little, tugboats step in to tow it to an area where the water is deeper.”

The Suez Canal, one of Egypt’s main sources of hard currency, was opened in 1869. It generated $5.6 billion in revenue last year, a 3.4% drop compared to 2019.

Last year, 18,829 vessels passed through the canal in both directions, with an overall net tonnage of 1.17 billion.

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