Salvage teams freed the Ever Given in the Suez Canal, according to maritime services provider Inchcape, almost a week after the giant vessel ran aground in one of the world’s most important trade paths.
While the ship is floating again, it wasn’t immediately clear how soon the waterway would be open to traffic, or how long it will take to clear the logjam of more than 450 ships stuck, waiting and en route to the Suez that have identified it as their next destination.
The backlog is one more strain for global supply chains already stretched by the pandemic as the canal is a conduit for about 12% of global trade. Some ships have already opted for the long and expensive trip around the southern tip of Africa instead of Suez.
The breakthrough in the rescue attempt came after diggers removed 27,000 cubic meters of sand, going deep into the banks of the canal.
The number of ships waiting to enter the Suez Canal exceeded the size of the entire U.S. Navy fleet as of Sunday. Data compiled by Bloomberg show there are 453 vessels queued up Sunday, compared with around 100 at the start of the blockage.
Bulk carriers typically hauling commodities such as grains, coal and iron ore account for the biggest share of the vessels stuck in and around the canal. The data also indicate as many as 15 vessels that could be carrying thousands of livestock.
About 200,000 animals could be stranded in the ships held up at the canal, according to an estimate from advocacy group Animals International. The group has tallied 18 vessels that departed Romania, Spain and South America and are currently stuck in the queue. Many are likely carrying sheep, said European Union director Gabriel Paun. Vessels can’t easily unload animals in other nearby countries due to health protocols or a lack of trade agreements, he said.
“It’s just another incident which shows that no matter which contingency plan you design, tragedies may occur over and over as long as we don’t replace the export of live animals with the export of refrigerated and frozen meat,” Paun said.
The Ever Given experienced strong winds and gusts in excess of 35 to 40 miles an hour around the time of its grounding in the Suez Canal according to an analysis from weather technology company ClimaCell. Conditions may have made the 400-meter long vessel more difficult to maneuver or kicked up desert sand reducing visibility, Chief Scientist Daniel Rothenberg said in an email. “Such strong winds happen infrequently — only once every few years — in our historical analysis,” he said.