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Suez Canal: Strong winds 'not main reason' behind ship's grounding claims official

Authorities in Egypt said some of the thousands of containers onboard could be removed to refloat the 220,000-tonne ship
Smit Salvage said it hopes heavier tugboats, dredging, and a high tide will free the vessel (Reuters) 

The chief of Egypt's Suez Canal Authority said on Saturday that technical or human errors led a giant container ship to become stuck in the canal, as pressure mounted to clear the international waterway. 

Osama Rabie told a press conference in Suez that strong winds were not the main factor that led to the Ever Given's grounding. 

"Strong winds and weather factors were not the main reasons for the ship's grounding. There may have been technical or human errors," Rabie said.

The mega-ship ran aground on 23 March and wedged diagonally on the southern part of the canal, blocking one of the world's busiest waterway. 

Rabie struck an optimistic note, saying that the vessel could be freed as early as Sunday. However, he warned that if the 220,000-tonne ship cannot be refloated in the coming days, efforts could shift to what he called "Plan C -  removing at least some of the thousands of containers onboard.

Earlier, a Dutch firm tasked with moving the Ever Given said it could be freed by next week if a combination of heavier tugboats, dredging and a high tide proves successful. 

Egyptian authorities called in Smit Salvage this week to free the 400-metre long Ever Given container ship. 

"The bow is really stuck in the sandy clay, but the stern has not been pushed totally into the clay, which is positive. We can try to use that as leverage to pull it loose," Peter Berdowski, chief executive of Smit Salvage owner Boskalis, told Dutch TV programme Nieuwsuur late on Friday. 

"Heavy tugboats, with a combined capacity of 400 tonnes, will arrive this weekend. We hope that a combination of the tugboats, dredging of sand at the bow and a high tide will enable us to get the ship loose at the beginning of next week."

The Ever Given is half the size of the Burj Khalifa, the world's tallest building (MEE Graphics)
The Ever Given is half the size of the Burj Khalifa, the world's tallest building (MEE Graphics)

Late on Friday, Shoei Kisen Kaisha, which owns the Ever Given, said it also hoped a high tide would help free the ship by Saturday night. 

Two US Defence Department officials told CNN that the US Navy plans to assist Egypt in freeing the container ship.

The US Navy's dredging assessment is expected to arrive by Saturday to assist in efforts to free the vessel. 

Rescue teams have been working for days to dislodge the Panama-flagged ship but have been unable to refloat the Ever Given.

Removing the sand 

Up to 20,000 cubic metres of sand in the canal need to be removed to free the container ship, the canal authority said on Thursday. 

Once enough sand is removed to allow for a depth of 12 to 16 metres, the ship could float out of the waterway. 

The US Defence Department told Middle East Eye that it could not confirm "any potential specific support at this time," but it continues to monitor and assess the situation.

"We have offered and stand ready to assist Egypt and will look to support any specific request we receive," said Pentagon spokesperson Commander Jessica L McNulty.