CAIRO - Egypt's Suez Canal Authority continued Saturday to try to refloat a gigantic container ship that was blocking one of the canal's main arteries, causing a massive traffic backup and seriously affecting international trade that uses the waterway.
The 400-meter-long Ever Given has been blocking the canal artery since Tuesday. Oussama Rabieh, head of the canal authority, told reporters that the ship was holding up 321 other ships waiting to go through the canal.
He said the depth of the canal at the point where the ship was blocked was about 24 meters at its midsection but considerably less deep along the sides, so the ship must be made lighter to refloat it. Work on the problem is continuing 24 hours a day, he said.
He said 9,000 tons of water had been removed to lighten the ship and large quantities of sand had been dredged from around the ship. It wasn't clear whether workers would begin removing some of the 20,000 containers the ship is carrying.
Egyptian Prime Minister Mustafa Madbouli told Egyptian TV on Saturday that Egypt was trying to make use of all the expertise available to resolve the canal problem.
He said those who use the canal know what the depths are in different spots and how ships need to transit these areas, and as a result, there is a corps of experts to deal with different types of ships and how to maneuver them.
Madbouli said that given the serious nature of the accident, "the canal authority deployed all its resources from the very outset of the crisis, in addition to appealing to international experts."
Trade, security issues
Paul Sullivan, a professor at the Washington-based U.S. National Defense University, told VOA the world was waiting for the problem to be resolved.
"There are lots of people working on this — Egyptian experts, non-Egyptian experts, the Suez Canal Authority and many others," Sullivan said. "It's very important that this is resolved sooner rather than later, not only for trade issues but also for security issues, because the longer this goes on, the longer the canal will not be available for vessels related to world security."
Sullivan noted that "if more and more ships are going along the coast of Africa because of this incident, security arrangements would need to be tightened" in places where pirates are known to operate, such as the "Gulf of Guinea, off the coast of Somalia, and between Somalia and Yemen."
The Japanese-owned Ever Given could possibly sag under the stress of its 20,000-container cargo if it remains blocked for a long time. The ship also may have suffered structural damage in 2019 when it hit a ferry near the port of Hamburg, Germany.
Egypt is eager to resume traffic along the Suez Canal, which brings in between $5 billion and $6 billion each year in revenue.