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A 200,000 metric ton cargo boat blocking the Suez Canal for six days has finally been freed, clearing the way for over 300 ships waiting to cross one of the world's busiest waterways. The Japanese-owned Ever Given has been wedged sideways into the sandy banks of the 120-mile-long (193-kilometer-long) and 78-feet-deep (24 meter-deep) channel since March 23, 2021. It was dislodged on March 29, 2021, by a fleet of tugboats that worked all night to take advantage of the king tides — high tides that occur during a full moon when the Sun, Earth and the Moon are aligned.
"We pulled it off!" Peter Berdowski, CEO of Boskalis, the salvage firm hired to rescue the Ever Given, said in a statement. "I am excited to announce that our team of experts, working in close collaboration with the Suez Canal Authority, successfully refloated the Ever Given on 29 March at 15:05 hrs local time (9:05 a.m. ET), thereby making free passage through the Suez Canal possible again."
The Ever Given, which stretches over 1,300 feet — almost as long as the Empire State Building is tall — will be tugged to the Great Bitter Lake, a saltwater lake in the middle of the Suez Canal, and inspected for damage. Depending on the outcome, the massive vessel, loaded with 20,000 containers, will either continue to its final destination of Rotterdam, Netherlands, or be diverted to another port for repair.
Experts are not sure how one of the world's largest cargo ships got stuck in the 985-foot-wide single lane, about 3.7 miles north of the Suez Canal's southern entrance. Its owners initially blamed the accident on the high winds that pushed the ship — which is roughly twice as long as the canal is wide — sideways. However, on March 27, 2021, General Rabie, chairman of Egypt's Suez Canal Authority, told reporters weather conditions were not primarily responsible for the ship's grounding. He said, "There may have been technical or human error. All of these factors will become apparent in the investigation."
Regardless of the reason, the ship's unlodging was met with a sigh of relief globally. It alleviated the need for the queued-up cargo vessels, carrying billions of dollars worth of goods, to reverse course and take the longer and more expensive route around Africa's southern tip to travel between Asia and Western ports. German insurer Allianz estimates that the delays caused by the six-day blockage could cost global businesses between $6 billion and $10 billion.
The Suez Canal, which accounts for over 10 percent of global trade, is an artificial sea-level waterway that cuts across the Isthmus of Suez in Egypt. Connecting the Mediterranean Sea to the Red Sea, it is the shortest and most efficient maritime route from Europe to Asia. The canal's construction, which began in early 1859, took ten years to complete, required over 1.5 million workers, and cost more than $100 million to build. Although initially designed to handle much smaller vessels, its channels have been widened and deepened several times to accommodate the increasingly larger cargo ships.
Though the Ever Given is the biggest, it is not the first vessel to get stuck in the waterway. In 2017, Japanese container ship OOCL Japan rammed into the canal's side and took about six hours to free. The channel was also closed for three days in 2004 after the Liberian-flagged oil tanker, Tropic Brilliance became lodged in the sandbanks.
Resources: NPR.org, CNN.com, NBC.com, BBC.com