CAIRO: The Suez Canal Authority stepped up dredging operations around a stranded cargo ship on Friday amid warning by salvage experts that it could take weeks to remove the vessel and open up the vital shipping lane.
The 400-meter-long MV Ever Given — one of the world’s largest container ships — has blocked the strategic waterway since running aground on Tuesday, triggering a crisis for international shipping and fears of a shortage of essential goods and fuel.
More than 230 ships, containing billions of dollars of goods, have joined queues around the 120-mile canal, one of the world’s most important trading routes.
Osama Rabie, chairman of the authority, said on Friday that dredging operations around the giant container ship had reached 87 percent capacity.
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The dredger Mashhour began working 100 meters from the ship on Thursday but by Friday had approached to within 15 meters of the stricken vessel, working at depths from half a meter to 15 meters.
Rabie said that two tugboats will attempt to tow the Ever Given after dredging work removes from 15,000 to 20,000 cubic meters of sand.
He said that the authority welcomed offers by the US and other countries to help dislodge the container ship, adding that “global navigation movement in the canal will be restored as soon as possible.”
The canal is a vital commercial corridor between Europe and Asia, with about 12 percent of global trade passing through the waterway.
Amid the disruption shipping costs for petroleum products have almost doubled, and several ships have been diverted away from the canal.
Russia used the crisis to promote the northern sea route as an alternative to the Suez Canal, with the Russian State Nuclear Energy Corporation Rosatom calling on ships to use the Arctic option.
“You might get stuck in the Suez Canal for days,” the nuclear agency said.
The Russian corporation boasted on Twitter that it provided real-time data on weather, currents, ice movement and other important information for navigating the north.
Capt. Farid Rushdie, chief guide for the Suez Canal in Ismailia, is assessing the Suez Canal accident and its impact.
Ship strandings are a common occurrence in international shipping lanes, he said.
In 1997, the Suez Canal was blocked for three days after an oil tanker ran aground in the same area.
“The safety of the ship is more important to us in the rescue operations than the length of time,” he said.
He said that the bigger the ship, the harder it is to dislodge from the canal’s banks.
“That’s why it is handled professionally and calmly,” he added.