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'She's Free': Giant Container Ship Blocking Suez Canal Underway After Days

The Ever Given container ship, operated by the Evergreen Marine Corp., sails through the Suez Canal after it was fully freed and floated on Friday.
The Ever Given container ship, operated by the Evergreen Marine Corp., sails through the Suez Canal after it was fully freed and floated on Friday.

Updated March 29, 2021 at 12:58 PM ET

A 1,300-foot, 220,000-ton container ship that has been blocking traffic in the Suez Canal for nearly a week is finally free and once again underway, onboard tracking sites and livestreamed video from the scene indicate.

Monday afternoon local time, as tugboat horns blared in celebration for having freed the grounded ship, the Ever Given was seen slowly making its way in the canal. Marinetraffic.com showed the vessel pointed north for the first time since last Tuesday, when in high winds and low visibility it became cross-ways in the canal and ran aground, shutting down all ship traffic in the vital waterway.

"She's free," an official involved in the salvage operation said, according to Reuters.

"We pulled it off!" Peter Berdowski, CEO of Boskalis, the salvage firm hired through SMIT Salvage to rescue the Ever Given and get commerce moving through the waterway again, said in a statement.

"I am excited to announce that our team of experts, working in close collaboration with the Suez Canal Authority, successfully refloated the Ever Given on 29 March at 15:05 hrs local time (9:05 a.m. ET), thereby making free passage through the Suez Canal possible again," he said.

By early afternoon ET, Ever Given was making about 10 knots (11.5 mph) as it headed into Great Bitter Lake, a wide stretch of water halfway between the north and south ends of the canal where the ship is to be inspected to make sure it didn't sustain any serious damage either at the time of the initial grounding or during attempts to free it.

The Panama-flagged, Japanese-owned container ship, which is operated by Taiwan-based Evergreen Marine, was originally destined for Rotterdam, Netherlands. However, it could be diverted to another port for repairs, if necessary.

The Ever Given is among the largest container ships currently in operation — at roughly twice as long as the canal is wide. Aided by a high tide, a flotilla of tugboats wrenched the ship's massive bow from the canal's bank, where it became lodged on March 23.

Announcing the news on Facebook, Egypt's president, Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi said: "Today, Egyptians have succeeded in ending the crisis of the delinquent ship on the Suez Canal despite the massive technical complexity surrounding this process on every side. Returning things to normal course, in Egyptian hands, reassures the whole world of the path of its goods and needs passed by this axial artery."

Osama Rabie, chairman of the Suez Canal Authority, announced early Monday that the stern of the Ever Given container ship had been moved about 335 feet from shore; it had been only a few yards from land.

In two separate failed attempts over the weekend, tugboats and dredgers tried to refloat the vessel, stacked high with containers, according to shipping authorities.

Evergreen Marine said Sunday that dredging efforts had removed more than 20,000 tons of sand and mud, which loosened the ship's bow, and that the ship's stern had "been cleared from the sand bank."

A satellite image shows the container ship Ever Given stuck in the Suez Canal near Suez, Egypt. Attempts to free the mammoth vessel stuck in Egypt's Suez Canal paid off on Monday.
Planet Labs Inc. / AP
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A satellite image shows the container ship Ever Given stuck in the Suez Canal near Suez, Egypt. Attempts to free the mammoth vessel stuck in Egypt's Suez Canal paid off on Monday.

The successful effort to free the ship means at least 369 vessels backed up waiting to transit the canal, including dozens of container ships, bulk carriers, oil tankers and liquefied natural gas (LNG) or liquefied petroleum gas (LPG) vessels, can now move, Rabie said, according to Reuters.

He told Egyptian television earlier that the Canal Authority would "not waste one second" in moving the delayed ships through the waterway. Rabie said it could take up to three days to clear the backlog of ships.

Maersk, the world's largest container line, said the knock-on disruptions to global shipping could take weeks or months to unravel.

Freeing the ship from its spot on the Suez Canal will allow billions of dollars worth of cargo to resume transit and obviate the need for vessels to take a long and expensive detour around the tip of Africa to travel between Asia and Western ports.

A prolonged delay could have increased the cost of shipping, complicated manufacturing and ultimately driven up prices of goods, logistics experts previously told NPR.

Copyright 2021 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.