(CNN) — Shipping experts believe it could take days or even weeks to free the 224,000-ton vessel that is wedged across the Suez Canal, blocking one of the world’s busiest waterways since Tuesday.
The Ever Given, a container ship almost as long as the Empire State Building is tall, ran aground on March 23 after being caught in 40-knot winds and a sandstorm that caused low visibility and poor navigation, the Suez Canal Authority (SCA) said in a statement.
Dislodging the vessel could take “days to weeks, depending on what you come across,” according to Peter Berdowski the CEO of Boskalis, whose sister company SMIT salvage is now working to free the ship.
Berdowski told Dutch TV on Wednesday that his company had determined it was impossible to free the ship with its current cargo on board. “The ship with the weight that it [has] now has is impossible to pull,” he said. “You can forget about that.”
The first step would be to remove fuel oil and ballast water from the ship, he added, and try to move it at high tide. If that doesn’t work, staff will have to remove containers and try to dig or flush away the sand banks in which the ship is now lodged, Berdowski said.
SMIT has worked on several high-profile salvage operations in the past, including the Costa Concordia, which was grounded off the coast of Italy in 2012.
A senior canal pilot at the SCA told CNN Wednesday that re-floating the massive vessel is “technically very complicated” and could take days.
The official — who spoke on condition of anonymity as he’s not authorized to speak to the media — said the equipment to float the ship is available but it depends on how it is used.
“If the method is not correct it might take a week, and if it’s done well it might take two days,” he said.
The SCA has officially suspended traffic in the waterway as efforts continue to dislodge the vessel jamming up one of the world’s busiest trade routes.
The vessel, which measures 400 meters long and 59 meters wide, continues to block transit in both directions through the key shipping channel. Dozens of cargo vessels carrying vital goods remain stranded at both ends of the canal.
A growing traffic jam
Several dozen vessels, including other large container ships, tankers carrying oil and gas, and bulk vessels hauling grain have backed up at either end of the canal to create one of the worst shipping jams seen for years.
Roughly 30% of the world’s shipping container volume transits through the 193 kilometer (120 mile) Suez Canal daily, and about 12% of total global trade of all goods.
Some shipping firms may be forced to reroute vessels around the southern tip of Africa, which would add about a week to the journey.
The world’s largest container shipping company Maersk said Wednesday that seven of its container ships have been affected by the crisis.
Four of the vessels are stuck in the nearby canal system while the rest are waiting to enter the passage, the Danish company said in a statement.
“Maersk is constantly monitoring the current situation in the Suez Canal and closely following the refloating efforts of the impacted vessel. Svitzer, our provider of towage and safety services, is taking part in the ongoing refloat operations as requested by the Suez Canal Authority,” the statement added.
Marine services firm GAC issued a note to clients overnight saying efforts to free the vessel using tug boats continued, but that wind conditions and the sheer size of the vessel “were hindering the operation.”
The Ever Given is owned by Japanese shipping company Shoei Kisen KK, Toshiaki Fujiawara, the Senior Managing Director of the company confirmed to CNN.
“This accident gave great trouble to various parties and we assume there would be damages to be claimed,” Yumi Shinohara, vice manager of vessel management, told CNN.
“However at this moment we are focusing on refloating/getting off the reef, and still we do not know the details as to which parties, how much damage, and how much liability, and so on,” Shinohara added.
According to Fujiwara, the Suez Canal Authority is trying to move the vessel using tug boats, and trying to remove the sand and dirt from the grounded bow of the ship.
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