The Ever Provided container ship’s debilitating impact on global traffic became evident on Sunday, when Syria, already scarred by years of war, introduced fuel rationing to secure dwindling oil supplies.
Officials with the Suez Canal hoped that the giant ship would be freed on Saturday night, four days after it ran aground, thanks to high tide and dredging efforts. However, after making progress the night before in freeing the rudder and propeller, the ship is still wedged across the canal.
Dredging efforts continued Sunday, with attempts to refloat the vessel set to resume at 2 p.m. local time, according to Evergreen Marine, the vessel’s operator (9 a.m. ET).
Meanwhile, according to Leth Agencies, the canal’s service provider, the backlog of ships awaiting passage via the critical Egyptian waterway has risen to 327.
According to Syria’s Ministry of Petroleum and Mineral Resources, the Suez Canal blockade has “hampered oil supplies to Syria and postponed the delivery of a tanker carrying oil and oil derivatives to Syria,” according to state-run SANA news.
Fears about fuel supplies have forced the Middle Eastern country to limit “the available amounts of petroleum derivatives, mostly diesel and benzene, to ensure their critical supply for the longest possible time,” according to SANA.
According to SANA, citing the ministry, the move was made “to ensure the continued supply of essential facilities to Syrians, such as bakeries, hospitals, water stations, contact centers, and other critical institutions.”
Syria will continue to ration oil supplies until “natural navigation through the Suez Canal resumes, which could take an uncertain amount of time,” according to the statement.
After being caught in 40-knot winds and a sandstorm, the Ever Given, a large ship nearly as tall as the Empire State Building, ran aground in the Egyptian canal on Tuesday. Authorities are still looking at whether there were any human or technological mistakes.
The blockage, which has occurred on one of the world’s busiest and most critical waterways, could have a severe effect on already overburdened global supply chains, with disruption growing with each passing day.
According to the charter company Evergreen Marine, a team of expert salvors from Dutch firm SMIT Salvage and Japan’s Nippon Salvage — who have served on many high-profile operations in the past — has been named to assist the Suez Canal Authority in refloating the ship.
Dredgers have been removing massive amounts of sand and mud from the port side of the 224,000-ton vessel’s bow.
“Having removed more than 20,000 tons of sand and mud, the dredging operation underway has succeeded in loosening the Ever Given’s bow within the bank of the Suez Canal and the ship’s stern has been cleared from the sand bank,” Evergreen Marine said in an update Sunday.
“The rudder and propeller of the vessel are fully functional and expected to provide additional support to tugboats assigned to move the container ship from the accident site so that normal transit may again resume within the canal.”
SCA Chairman Osama Rabie gave details of the rescue operation at a news conference on Saturday, describing it as “technically complex” and “involving several factors.”
“We are facing a difficult and complicated situation, we work in a rocky soil, the tides are very high, in addition to the huge size of the ship and the number of containers that make it difficult,” he said. “We cannot set a specific date for the ship to float, it depends on the ship’s response.”
Rabie reported that 9,000 tons of ballast water had been withdrawn from the ship, with dredging taking place during low tides and 14 tugs operating during high tides. On Friday night, rescue teams were able to briefly restart the rudder and propellers until their efforts were stymied by a low tide, he said.
A spokesman for Boskalis, a sister company of SMIT Salvage, told CNN that two more heavy tugboats are scheduled to arrive at the Ever Given “probably early evening” on Sunday.
According to spokesman Martijn Schuttevaer, the pair has a total pulling power of about 400 tons. It might take a few hours to connect to the Ever Given once the tugboats arrive, he said.
The extra pulling force of those two tugs, coupled with dredging, a high tide of 40 to 50 centimeters, and the “lever power” of the ship’s stern being relatively open, may be enough to wrest the container ship free, according to Boskalis’ chief executive.