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Transportation

Suez Canal reopens for traffic after cargo ship refloated

Waterway authority chief says backlog of vessels could be cleared in 3.5 days

The containership Ever Given has been refloated and will be checked for damage at Great Bitter Lake. (Photo courtesy of Suez Canal Authority)

IMABARI, Japan/ISMAILIA, Egypt/TOKYO -- Traffic on the Suez Canal resumed Monday after the stranded cargo ship Ever Given was fully refloated, ending the six-day blockage of one of the world's busiest maritime lanes and shortest regular sea route between Europe and Asia.

A total of 422 vessels, from containerships to oil tankers, were waiting to pass through the canal, and the backup could be cleared in three and a half days, said Lt. Gen. Osama Rabie, the Suez Canal Authority chairman.

Rabie said 113 vessels were scheduled to pass the canal between 6 p.m. Monday local time -- when passage resumed -- to 8 a.m. Tuesday.

The blockage was costing the Suez Canal roughly $12 million to $15 million a day, Rabie said.

News that traffic had resumed on the canal sent crude oil prices lower, with U.S. benchmark West Texas Intermediate futures falling 1% on Monday to under $70 a barrel.

Suez Canal Authority Chairman Osama Rabie speaks to reporters in Ismailia, Egypt after the container ship was freed on March 29. (Photo by Takeshi Kumon)

But industry watchers said the impact of the blockage on maritime trade will continue for days, if not weeks. A.P. Moller-Maersk, the world's largest container logistics company, told clients that it will take at least six days to clear the backlog of ships waiting to pass through the Suez Canal.

The cargo ship has been escorted to Great Bitter Lake -- the widest section of the canal -- which serves as a passing lane for vessels. Forty-three ships have resumed transit from Great Bitter Lake and are expected to exit the canal in several hours, Egypt's Leth Agencies reports.

The Ever Given will be inspected for damage at Great Bitter Lake, its Japanese owner Shoei Kisen said in a Monday statement confirming that the vessel was freed at 3:04 p.m. Egyptian time.

"We are thankful for the extensive cooperation we received from the Suez Canal Authority, the salvage companies and other relevant parties in response to the accident," the company said.

The ship will return to sea as soon as it can, Shoei Kisen said.

Authorities and Shoei Kisen had said earlier in the day that the cargo ship was starting to move following efforts over the weekend and through Monday to refloat it. The owner told Nikkei that the Ever Given was pulled by tugboats, as well as engaging the engine of the vessel to add power.

The containership, 400 meters long and weighing more than 200,000 tons, became stranded in the canal on March 23 after hitting the banks of the waterway. It brought the canal to a standstill, sparking fears of disruption to world trade. About 12% of global trade goes through Suez, and hundreds of vessels backed up at each end of the 190 km canal.

Teams using excavators and tugs battled to free the ship, hoping to refloat the vessel without having to remove its cargo -- a complex and time-consuming operation that would involve handling thousands of containers far from the usual port facilities.

Despite the initial hope to rescue the ship on Saturday, the grounded part of the vessel was "heavier than expected," Toshiaki Fujiwara, Shoei Kisen's senior managing director, told Nikkei. "That was why it was not successful" over the weekend.

Inchcape Shipping Services, a provider of maritime services, said in a tweet on Monday that the Ever Given "was successfully re-floated at 04:30" local time.

"She is being secured at the moment. More information about next steps will follow once they are known," Inchcape said.

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