“We pulled it off!” said a news release from Dutch salvage company Boskalis, which had been hired by the ship’s owner to assist with the high-stakes operation.
The victory followed a tense six days as the flow of goods between Europe and the Middle East and China in the crucial waterway came to a standstill, with the pressure on Egypt growing each day as the costs of the delay mounted.
Dredgers, tugboats and salvage crews worked frantically overnight on Sunday and had succeeded at freeing the boat’s stern by Monday morning, aided by the unusually high spring tide that arrived with the full moon.
At that point, Egyptian officials declared the operation a success. Lt. Gen. Osama Rabie, the chief of the Suez Canal Authority, commended workers for achieving this “heroic feat” and performing “their patriotic duty impeccably.”
While the head of the Dutch salvage team warned that dislodging the boat’s bow could be far more complicated, a sense of optimism began to creep in, and Bloomberg News reported that one car carrier that had detoured away from the Suez Canal had taken another U-turn and was headed back for Egypt.
“Egyptians have succeeded today in ending the crisis of the stranded ship in the Suez Canal,” Egyptian President Abdel Fatah al-Sissi said in a statement.
He portrayed the efforts as a patriotic victory that assured the world that Egypt could be trusted with overseeing the 13 percent of all global trade that passes through the crucial waterway.
Later on Monday, it became clear that there was in fact reason to celebrate: Tugboats successfully reoriented the ship and pulled it into the center of the canal, then began towing it to the Bitter Lakes to the north, where it will be able to undergo an inspection without blocking traffic.
Billions of dollars in trade have been lost each day from the grounding of the carrier, one of the largest container ships in the world. As of Monday morning, 367 vessels were trapped in a massive maritime traffic jam in the canal, according to Leth Agencies. Many other shipping companies opted to detour around the southern tip of Africa, adding a week or two to their journeys and driving up fuel costs.
By Monday afternoon, it remained unclear when waiting ships would be able to begin their own passage through the canal. Experts expect a new set of headaches as vessels that were held up in the Suez all arrive in ports at the same time and find they have no room to dock and unload their cargo.
The steep financial losses caused by the delays are also expected to cause a cascade of insurance claims, which could soon raise thorny questions about who should be held liable for the incident.
With the Ever Given freed and on the move, the spotlight is likely to shine on the ongoing investigation into how the vessel got stuck, leading to billions of dollars in losses globally. While strong winds during a dust storm are widely seen as a major factor, the Suez Canal Authority has said that human or technical errors cannot be ruled out.
One focus of the investigation will probably be on the role of the two Egyptian canal pilots who were supposed to help the boat’s captain navigate the canal, and whether any communication failures occurred.
Monday’s successful turnaround came after a series of delays, over several days, that were due to technical and weather challenges preventing the extraction of the mammoth vessel from the sand and mud of the canal.
Over the weekend, as progress seemed to stall, Sissi had ordered workers to prepare for an alternative scenario that would have involved lightening the ship by unloading its 18,000 containers. That could have taken days, even weeks, and required large cranes or specialized helicopters, according to industry experts.
Mahfouz reported from Cairo. Farzan reported from Providence, R.I.