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Suez Canal: Sisi orders preparations to lighten stranded ship's load

Some movement, but experts say authorities face two-week wait if unable to dislodge ship on Sunday
A view of earth-moving equipment excavating sand near the bow of the Ever Given container ship stuck in the Suez Canal (AFP)

Egypt's President Abdel Fatah el-Sisi ordered the Suez Canal Authority to make preparations to lighten the cargo of a giant container ship blocking the Suez Canal, as experts pin their hopes on a high tide to free the vessel. 

Osama Rabie, who heads the authority, told Egypt's Extra News on Sunday that Sisi made the order while salvage efforts continued in attempts to dislodge the container ship.  

The authority's chairman also said Egypt would consider giving discounts for ships affected by the blockage 

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The Marine Traffic and Vessel Finder websites said two tugboats were heading to the Suez Canal to help the salvage operations.

The Ever Given container ship, which is the size of four football fields, has blocked the Suez Canal for the past six days, crippling international trade and causing losses worth millions of dollars. 

The blockage has stopped traffic coming from both directions and forced companies to consider taking a more expensive route that diverts vessels past South Africa's Cape of Good Hope.

Spring tide

Rabie raised hopes on Saturday that the Ever Given could be freed by Sunday. 

"We could finish today or tomorrow [Sunday], depending on the ship's responsiveness" to high tides, he said, adding that 14 tugboats were deployed around the stricken vessel.

Rabie later told an Egyptian news channel that the ship "moved 30 degrees from left and right" for the first time late on Saturday.

"It is a good sign," he said.

The spring tide that experts are pinning their hopes on is expected to start on Sunday night. 

Plamen Natzkoff, an expert at VesselsValue, told AFP that if authorities are unable to salvage the Ever Given during Sunday's high tide, it would have to wait "for another couple of weeks". 

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)

Lloyds List, a shipping data and news company, said it had also seen a "surge" in vessels opting to go around Africa instead of waiting for the canal to be cleared. 

The 200,000-tonne MV Ever Given veered off course in the Suez Canal on Wednesday, an incident officials blamed on high wind speeds and sandstorms. 

But Rabie on Saturday acknowledged that "technical or human errors" led to the Panama-registered super container ship's grounding. 

Rabie said Egypt was losing $12-14m in revenue from the canal each day it is closed.  

In contrast, Lloyds List said the blockage is holding back an estimated $9.6bn worth of cargo each day between Asia and Europe. 

The blockage has held up more than 320 ships at either end of the canal, with some countries already voicing concerns over the wider economic ramifications of the crisis.