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Suez Canal: Egypt's Sisi promises new equipment to prevent repeat of blockage

Egyptian president says the blocking of the waterway illustrated 'how important the canal is to the world'
Traffic in the Suez Canal has resumed after the stranded ship Ever Given, pictured, refloated (Reuters)

Egyptian President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi promised his government would buy equipment to prevent the Suez Canal blockage from happening again, as the reopened waterway prepared to once again receive scores of ships travelling through.

Suez Canal Authority chairman Osama Rabie said they expected to see 140 ships pass through the canal on Tuesday after 113 transited overnight following the release of grounded container ship Ever Given.

He said 95 ships would pass by 7pm local time and a further 45 by midnight, reasserting that he hoped a backlog caused by the blockage would be cleared in three to four days.

The huge container ship got stuck across the canal on 23 March blocking maritime traffic for nearly a week and risking severe damage to Egypt's economy.

Speaking during a visit to Ismailia, headquarters of the Suez Canal Authority, Sisi said the crisis had shown "how important the canal is to the world".

"We will acquire all the necessary equipment for the canal" to avoid similar incidents, assured Sisi, who on Monday described the sea giant's clearance operations as an "Egyptian" success.

After seven days of blockage, the canal's technical teams finally managed to put the ship afloat on Monday afternoon and the first ships were able to start moving in the canal around 6pm on Monday evening.

On Tuesday morning, according to maritime traffic viewing sites, some ships circulating in the canal - a sign of a return to normal - were of a size similar to Ever Given, more than 200,000 tons and 400 meters long.

But dozens of ships remained waiting at both ends of the canal, which is 190km long and links the Mediterranean to the Red Sea, carrying around 10 percent of world trade.

A total of 422 ships, loaded with goods, oil and even livestock, had remained stranded.

Among them, 113 crossed the canal overnight between 6pm Monday and 8am Tuesday, said Rabie.

The gigantic traffic jam should take three or four days to subside, according to the authorities.

'Very careful'

The giant Panamanian-flagged vessel operated by Taiwanese Evergreen Marine Corporation was stranded after ramming the east side of the waterway.

The clearance operations required more than ten tugs, as well as dredges to dig the base of the canal, despite the rocky nature of the terrain.

"Between 180 and 200 people worked tirelessly 24 hours a day" on-site and up to "2,000 workers" provided "outside services," an SCA official told AFP on condition of anonymity.

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“The determining factor is that we dug deeper under the bow of the ship and widened to form a pool of water below” at about 12 metres, he revealed.

Elsewhere, rescue teams dug up to 18 metres. Strong winds and a sandstorm were initially involved in the blockage, before Rabie raised the possibility of "errors, human or technical".

Each day of immobilisation resulted, according to insurer Allianz, in losses of six to 10 billion dollars.

The total value of assets stranded or having to take another route differed according to estimates, ranging between $3bn and more than $9bn.

According to the SCA, Egypt lost between $12m and $15m in fees per day of the closure of the canal, used by nearly 19,000 ships in 2020.