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Ever Given in the Suez Canal now afloat: Everything you need to know

CNET logo CNET 3/29/2021 Daniel Van Boom
a large building: Julianne Cona/Instagram © Provided by CNET Julianne Cona/Instagram

After nearly six days of being lodged aground, the cargo ship Ever Given is now afloat. That's according to Inchcape, a shipping services provider, and ship tracker Marine Traffic. However, the ship being floated may not fix the entire problem, as the giant Ever Given still needs to be maneuvered to free passage through the canal.

The Suez Canal is one of the world's most important waterways. Located 75 miles east of Cairo, the capital of Egypt, it links the Mediterranean Sea to the Red Sea, allowing for direct shipping from Europe to Asia. Roughly 12% of the world's shipping traffic and a chunk of its oil supply goes through the manmade canal, which has become particularly vital following pandemic-related disruptions to shipping. 

a boat in the water © Suez Canal Authority

With the canal's cargo traffic at a standstill, that means delays in everything from oil to food to clothing to semiconductors. Which is why it's a big deal that the 1,312-foot-long Ever Given has been blocking the Suez Canal since last Tuesday.

With the waterway blockage entering its sixth day, the fallout is reverberating around the world. But on Sunday night (Monday morning Egypt time), a breakthrough was reached.

graphical user interface, text, application: Live tracking of the Ever Given shows it dislodged from the canal's enbankments. MarineTraffic © Provided by CNET Live tracking of the Ever Given shows it dislodged from the canal's enbankments. MarineTraffic

What's the latest update?

The Ever Given was lodged firmly into the embankments on each side of the Suez Canal. Now, after six days of rigorous efforts, the ship has been refloated, according to Inchcape

"The MV Ever Given was successfully re-floated at 04:30 lt 29/03/2021. She is being secured at the moment. More information about next steps will follow once they are known," the company tweeted.

It's a pivitol moment of progress, but the saga isn't over quite yet. The Ever Given is longer than most skyscrapers are tall and more importantly is longer than the canal is wide. It'll need to be moved around -- a tough task -- before the 300-plus ships stuck in the canal bottleneck can gain passage.

The vessel's refloating comes after two additional tugboats were deployed on Sunday, as reported by AP News, to help a fleet of around 10 similar boats laboring to extract the 200,000-ton Ever Given. At the same time, the Suez Canal Authority over the weekend deployed more onland heavy machinery to dig around the ship's bow, which would make it easier for the vessel to be pulled out.

Authorities have been working to extract the vessel for nearly a week. Time is of the essence here. Experts say a couple days of delay would be a major inconvenience for shipping companies, but that a week or more of delays could prove catastrophic and not just for shipping companies.

Local authorities have been working since Tuesday to extract the 200,000-ton Ever Given ship. Suez Canal Authority © Provided by CNET Local authorities have been working since Tuesday to extract the 200,000-ton Ever Given ship. Suez Canal Authority

"If the ship were to remain stuck for another week it could cause massive delays in the delivery of products, and every second of delay leaves billions of dollars' worth of disruptions on the line," Jennifer Bisceglie, CEO of supply chain risk management firm Interos, said to CNET on Friday.

Peter Berdowski, CEO of Boskalis, the company leading the rescue effort, cautioned on Thursday that the Ever Given being stuck for weeks is a very real possibility.

"We can't exclude it might take weeks, depending on the situation," Berdowski told the Dutch television program Nieuwsuur. "It is like an enormous beached whale. It's an enormous weight on the sand."

Shoei Kisen Kaisha, the company that owns the Ever Given, released a statement Thursday apologizing for the issue. Meanwhile, the US government has offered assistance to the Suez Canal Authority.

"In connection with the ongoing efforts to dislodge the container ship that ran aground during its passage through the Suez Canal, the Suez Canal Authority values the offer of the United States of America to contribute to these efforts," the SCA said in a statement, "and looks forward to cooperating with the U.S. in this regard in appreciation of this good initiative which confirms the friendly relations and cooperation between the two countries."

Wait, what happened on Tuesday?

Ever Given is a 200,000-ton cargo ship that spans a quarter mile, roughly the length of four football fields. You'll notice "Evergreen" is the written across its body but, confusingly, that's branding for the Taiwanese company that operates the ship, Evergreen Marine Corp. 

On Tuesday, just before 8 a.m. Egypt time, strong gusts of wind knocked it off course. En route to Rotterdam from China, it was holding around 20,000 shipping containers of cargo, estimated to be worth $9 billion, when it became wedged in the canal's east bank.

"The accident is mainly due to the lack of visibility resulting from bad weather conditions as the country passes through a dust storm, with wind speed reaching 40 knots," Suez Canal Authority chief Osama Rabie said in a statement. 

a close up of a map: Planet Labs © Provided by CNET Planet Labs

No one on board was injured, according to the ship's technical manager, Bernhard Schulte Shipmanagement. But the task of extricating the Ever Given is momentous. The ship was wedged diagonally -- as you can see in the above aerial shot -- and is longer than the Canal is wide. The ship spans 1,312 feet, while the Canal's width ranges from 205 to 225 feet. 

The Suez Canal Authority deployed a gang of tugboats on Tuesday to pull the Ever Given out of its predicament, with more joining the effort throughout the week, with little success -- until Sunday. Smit Salvage, a renowned maritime rescue company, was hired on Wednesday to assist the SCA in breaking the bottleneck. 

Officials from Smit Salvage on Thursday told AP the rescue operation could take "days to weeks," though Mohab Mamish, Egyptian President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi's adviser on seaports and the former chair of the Suez Canal Authority, told the same news agency Thursday that navigation through the canal "will resume again within 48-72 hours, maximum."  

With news of the ship's refloating coming Monday morning Egypt time, a new phase of the mission will begin.

a close up of a rock: Over 150 cargo ships are reported to be bottlenecked before the canal. This shot from Planet Labs shows some of the traffic. Planet Labs © Provided by CNET Over 150 cargo ships are reported to be bottlenecked before the canal. This shot from Planet Labs shows some of the traffic. Planet Labs

What does this mean? 

"Ship in front of us ran aground while going through the canal and is now stuck sideways," Julianne Cona wrote on Instagram as she snapped a photo of Ever Given from her own cargo ship, "looks like we might be here for a little bit."

It's one of the approximately 321 ships that have amassed in the bottleneck, according to the Suez Canal Authority.

When the ship was lodged, shipping companies faced a dilemma: wait for the Ever Given to be floated or divert around the Horn of Africa, another sea route that links Europe and Asia. The latter option would delay shipments by up to 14 days. 

Such delays could cause severe shortages, as the global shipping industry is already beset by a lack of shipping containers and other complications arising from the COVID-19 pandemic. Oil is particularly vulnerable to the blockage, with the Suez Canal, which opened in 1869, being a key route for transporting oil from the Middle East to Asia and Europe. 

Brent crude oil, the price of which is used as an international benchmark, rose 2.85% after news of the Ever Given's plight broke. The rise is tempered by further COVID-19 lockdown restrictions in Europe, which has decreased demand for oil. Local officials hope the issue can be resolved within days, but longer delays would make oil price spikes the beginning of the world's trouble.

"The Suez Canal accounts for nearly 30% of all container ship traffic," explained Interos' Bisceglie, "with carriers transporting oil, natural gas, clothing, food, electronics, machinery, and even semiconductor chips, an item which has already been in the midst of a global shortage.  

Has this happened before?

Yes.

Following mechanical issues, a Japanese vessel became lodged in the ground under the canal water in 2017. Tugboats refloated the ship within hours. A year prior, the CSCL Indian Ocean spent five days aground before being pulled out by tugboats. 

At first, officials at the Canal hoped to dislodge the Ever Given within a day or two. Instead, the Ever Given is into its sixth day of being stuck, giving it the dubious honor of blocking the canal longer than any other cargo ship in history.

Officials at the Suez Canal are hoping the Ever Given is refloated on a timescale closer to the 2017 Japanese vessel than the 2016 CSCL Indian Ocean. 

If the vessel can be righted in two days,  "the impact will be limited to a gradual worsening of already very bad vessel delays.

"If ... the Suez Canal remains blocked for another three to five days," Sea-Intelligence vice president of product and operations Niels Madsen told Reuters, "then this will start to have very serious global ramifications."

That comment was made four days ago.

Suez Canal memes are flowing, of course

Of course not! Here are the very best Suez Canal reactions. 

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