• Wed. May 12th, 2021

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Giant ship that blocked Suez Canal set free; traffic resumes through key trade route

SUEZ, Egypt — The giant container ship that blocked traffic in the Suez Canal for the last week resumed its journey on Monday after being successfully refloated.

“The efforts to float the delinquent Panamanian container ship Ever Given are successful,” Lt. Gen. Osama Rabie, chairman of the Suez Canal Authority, said in a statement.

An NBC News eyewitness and satellite data from MarineTraffic.com, a shipping monitor site, confirmed that the ship was moving away from the shoreline toward the center of the canal.

The salvage firm hired to extract the ship also confirmed the successful operation, proclaiming “We pulled it off!”

Cargo ship Ever Given sails after being freed along the Suez Canal on Monday March 29, 2021.Charlene Gubash / via NBC News

Traffic through the crucial waterway resumed Monday evening after days of intense salvage efforts to free the ship.

“The first ship of the northern convoy crossed the Suez Canal at Port Said,” the Suez Canal Authority said in a statement.

“Navigation will return naturally in the Suez Canal in both directions Monday evening,” it added.

The Ever Given had brought the key global trade route to a standstill and captured the world’s attention after becoming stranded last Tuesday.

The 1,400-foot-long cargo ship jammed diagonally across a southern section of the Suez Canal, leaving a total of 367 ships, including dozens of container ships and bulk carriers, unable to use the key trading route as of Monday morning.

Dredgers worked over the weekend to dislodge the stranded vessel, shifting huge quantities of sand in an effort to help free the stranded ship, the canal authority said.

More than a dozen tugboats were used to conduct pulling maneuvers from three directions to dislodge the ship, it added.

The vessel was partially refloated after some some initial success early Monday. Efforts to free the ship then resumed when high tide brought the water level back up.

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Video and images taken by NBC News reporters near the site showed the ship had moved away from its lodged position and was sailing toward the Great Bitter Lake, a wide stretch of water halfway between the north and south end of the canal where it will undergo inspection for any technical issues.

Blaring horns from neighboring vessels marked the breakthrough.

“I am excited to announce that our team of experts, working in close collaboration with the Suez Canal Authority, successfully refloated the Ever Given on 29 March at 15:05 hrs local time, thereby making free passage through the Suez Canal possible again,” said Peter Berdowski, the CEO of salvage firm Boskalis.

Egyptian President Abdel Fattah el-Sissi had earlier lauded his country’s efforts.

“Today the Egyptians succeeded in ending the crisis of the grounded ship in the Suez Canal, despite massive technical complications which engulfed this operation,” he said in a tweet on Monday. “I thank every honest Egyptian who took part technically or practically to end this crisis.”

Brian Deese, White House Director of the National Economic Council, said there was “tentative” but good news out of the Suez.

“Just another reminder of how imperative it is to ensure the resilience of our supply chains going forward,” he said on Twitter.

Evergreen Marine Corp., a major Taiwan-based shipping company that operates the ship, confirmed in a statement that the Ever Given would be repositioned to the Great Bitter Lake for an inspection of its seaworthiness.

The outcome of that inspection will determine whether the ship can resume its scheduled service, the statement added.

The stranded ship had halted all traffic across the canal, with experts initially fearing it could take weeks to free it and clear the blockage of a route that accounts for about 12 percent of global trade.

The canal usually allows 50 cargo ships to pass daily between the Mediterranean and the Red Sea, providing a vital trade corridor between Europe and Asia.

The closing threatened to disrupt oil and gas shipments to Europe from the Middle East. Already, Syria had begun rationing the distribution of fuel in the war-torn country because of concerns about delays of shipments arriving, The Associated Press reported.

Shipping rates for oil product tankers nearly doubled after the ship became stranded, Reuters reported, and the blockage had disrupted global supply chains, already strained by Covid-19 restrictions.

If the blockage dragged on, shippers may have been forced to reroute their cargoes around the Cape of Good Hope at the southern tip of Africa, adding about two weeks and extra fuel costs to journeys.

Charlene Gubash reported from Suez, Yasmine Salam from London, and Richie Duchon from Los Angeles.

Raf Sanchez, Caroline Radnofsky, The Associated Press, Reuters and Saphora Smith contributed.