Suez (Egypt) (AFP) -
The main challenge in freeing the enormous container ship blocking the Suez Canal was 'still ahead,' the salvage company leading the operation said Monday, even as Egypt's president claimed success.
The ship was turned in the right direction early Monday, triggering praise from President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi and raising hopes traffic could soon resume.
But the Suez Canal Authority, the giant ship's Japanese owner and a Dutch company in charge of the salvage operation said that while the back of the ship had been shifted, the front was still far from free.
Longer than four football fields, the MV Ever Given became wedged diagonally across the canal during a sandstorm last Tuesday, strangling world supply chains.
Maritime data company Lloyd's List says the blockage is holding up an estimated $9.6 billion worth of cargo each day between Asia and Europe, with the tailback of ships now reaching 425 at the two ends of the canal, in the Mediterranean and Red Sea.
'The good news is that the stern is free, but in our view that was the easier part,' Peter Berdowski, chief executive of salvage company Boskalis, told Dutch public radio.
'The challenge is still ahead, because you really have to slide the ship, with the weight it is carrying' in order to free the bow, he said.
- Tug boat flotilla -
His comments stood uneasily alongside those of the Egyptian head of state.
'Today, Egyptians have been successful in putting to an end the crisis of the stranded ship in the Suez Canal, despite the enormous complexity surrounding the process,' Sisi said on Monday.
Canal authority chief Osama Rabie said early on Monday that efforts to fully free the vessel would resume late morning.
An AFP journalist on the scene said that the ship remained stationary early afternoon local time, while several tug boats could be seen on local private television in position against the side of the ship, with their motors running.
Rabie said that the ship had been moved to point '80 percent' in the right direction, after the successful dislodging of the stern.
Egypt is losing some $12-14 million in revenue from the canal for each day it is closed, according to the canal authority.
Once the 200,000-tonne ship is fully afloat, it will take around three and a half days to clear the traffic jam of ships, Rabie said Monday, praising rescue efforts.
'The stern... moved to 102 metres (335 feet) from the shore,' compared to its position four metres from the bank previously, Rabie said.
An official from the ship's owners, Shoei Kisen, also said early Monday that while the Ever Given 'has turned' it was 'not afloat' at this stage.
The ship had been 'stuck at an angle of 30 degrees towards the canal, but that has eased' with the help of a flotilla of tug boats, said the official.
He said that while there was damage sustained by the ship on its bow when it got stuck, 'no new damage has been reported'.
A canal official, who requested anonymity, said that the team on the ground had undertaken technical checks, and were reassured that the ship's motor was working.
Salvage crews have been working around the clock.
They had focussed on efforts to remove sand around the ship, with 27,000 cubic metres (over 950,000 cubic feet) cleared at a depth of 18 metres (59 feet), SCA spokesman George Safwat said Sunday.
- Knock-on effects -
The crisis has forced companies to choose between waiting or rerouting vessels around Africa, which adds a huge fuel bill, 9,000 kilometres (5,500 miles) and over a week of travel to the trip between Asia and Europe.
Russia offered assistance Sunday, following other countries including the United States that have made similar offers.
In a sign of the knock-on effects from the Suez blockage, authorities in war-wracked Syria said the crisis had hit its fuel imports from Iran and forced it to ration already scarce supplies.
Romania's animal health agency said 11 ships carrying livestock out of the country were also impacted, while the charity Animals International warned of a potential 'tragedy' affecting some 130,000 animals.