INTERNATIONAL BUSINESS

Suez Canal shipping backlog cleared

Suez Canal Authority (SCA) has said that all 422 ships stranded by the grounding of the giant container ship Ever Given passed through the canal by Saturday, ending the backlog caused by the blockage

Osama Rabie, chairman of the SCA, said 85 ships were expected to pass the canal from both sides on Saturday.

They include the last 61 ships out of the 422 that were queueing when the Ever Given was dislodged on Monday, ending the backlog of shipping that built up during the crisis, he added.

International supply chains were thrown into disarray when the 400-metre-long (430 yards) Ever Given ran aground in the vital trade artery on March 23, with specialist rescue teams taking almost a week to free it after extensive dredging and repeated tugging operations.

An SCA investigation began on Wednesday into what caused the vessel to run aground in the Suez Canal and block the waterway for six days, Rabie told the MBC Masr late on Friday.

“The investigation is going well and will take two more days, then we will announce the results.”

Visiting the canal this week, Egypt’s President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi said: “We have to give a strong message to the world that the Suez Canal … can transport world trade at this rate or more.”

It was not clear yet if the Suez Canal would opt to extend a second channel south of the one that Egypt opened in 2015 at a cost of $8bn along a 70km (43.5 miles) portion of the waterway.

Such an extension would allow traffic to continue flowing even if a ship was to be grounded.

“An expansion for the southern section of the canal can be under consideration,” said el-Sisi. “It’s up to the technical people. We don’t want to take measures just due to extraordinary situations.”

Rabie said Egypt will get two new tugboats, one next week and another in August, after the Ever Given was freed, as well as taking the biggest dredger in the Middle East and arranging for a further five new Chinese tugboats.

But shipping industry experts said specialist equipment and associated procedures have long struggled to keep up with the ever-increasing size of commercial vessels.

“The average size of most vessels has increased exponentially over the last 15 years. The ability to salvage these bigger ships has not,” said Peter Townsend, a marine insurance industry veteran. “The issue is getting containers off essentially a 20-storey high building at sea.”SOURCE: AL JAZEERA AND NEWS AGENCIES

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