Suez Canal: Shipping backlog cleared as investigation into blockage nears end

Suban Abdulla
·3 min read
Egyptian coast guards patrol as a ship navigates the Suez Canal on March 30, 2021, a day after a cargo vessel was dislodged from its banks. - Egyptian authorities have presented the freeing of the megaship, which was stuck for nearly a week and caused a 425- ship tailback to the north and south, as a major vindication of the country's engineering and salvage capabilities. (Photo by Tarek WAJEH / AFP) (Photo by TAREK WAJEH/AFP via Getty Images)
Egyptian coast guards patrol as a ship navigates the Suez Canal on 30 March 2021, a day after the Ever Given was dislodged from its banks. Photo: Tarek Wajeh / AFP via Getty Images

The last ships stranded by a blocked vessel in the Suez Canal, which held up movement from both sides for six days in one of the world's largest trading routes, have finally passed through. 

According to the Suez Canal Authority (SCA) the shipping backlog caused by the traffic jam was now cleared. 

On Saturday, it expected the remaining 85 ships to pass through the waterway. These included the last 61 ships out of more than 400 ships that were queuing when the Ever Given container vessel was dislodged earlier this week. 

While the canal authority said that the Suez Canal is operating in full capacity and around the clock, the crisis saw 422 ships stranded in the Mediterranean and the Red Sea when the 200,000-tonne Ever Green, which is capable of carrying 20,000 shipping containers, became wedged across the Suez on 23 March.

Last weekend, 14 tugboats pulled and pushed the Ever Given at high tide to try to dislodge it and were able to move the ship "30 degrees from left and right." ​

On Monday 29 March, after several attempts to refloat the vessel, the SCA said the ship had been "successfully refloated."

Chairman of the SCA, Osama Rabie added that an investigation into what caused the vessel to run aground, is due to wrap up soon. "The investigation is going well and will take two more days, then we will announce the results," Rabie said. The authority is expected to publish its findings next week. 

On Thursday, Rabie announced Egypt is seeking over $1bn (£723m) in compensation due to the ordeal. He warned that the ship and its some $3.5bn worth of cargo will not be allowed to leave the country if the issue goes to court.

However, he added that if the investigation goes smoothly and the issue of damages is agreed between the country and the ship's owners, then the vessel would be allowed to travel. 

The Japanese owners Shoei Kisen Kaisha, or the Taiwanese firm Evergreen Marine Corp — who had charted the ship — are expected to be liable for the compensation. The money will cover the costs of the salvage operation, transit fees that were lost and the costs associated with stopping all traffic in the Suez Canal.

READ MORE: Giant container ship freed after blocking trade for six days

Global supply chains have been crippled and the shipping industry thrown into disarray since the crisis started. Many companies and countries were forced to reconsider options, including rationing oil. 

Efforts were also made after initial reports that the Panama-flagged ship could be stuck for weeks. This led to firms rerouting trade to sail around Africa's Cape of Good Hope, which costs more and typically adds around two weeks onto journeys.

The Suez Canal is an artificial sea-level waterway in Egypt connecting the Mediterranean Sea to the Red Sea.

Built in 1869, the Suez Canal is used by around 50 vessels per day, according to Panjiva, the supply chain research unit of S&P Global Market Intelligence. 

Container ships accounted for 52.7% of the tonnage in 2019 transiting the canal including shipments from Asia to Europe and the US east coast as well as vice-versa.

An estimated $9.6bn (£7bn) of goods were being held up by the ship each day as the blockage continued. 

Oil prices were driven higher following the crisis, with (BZ=F) and Crude oil (CL=F) rising by as much as 4%. 

WATCH: How was the Suez Canal ship freed?