Suez Canal salvage teams alternate between dredging and tugging to dislodge a massive container ship blocking the busy waterway since Tuesday.

Stranded ship Ever Given, one of the world's largest container ships, is seen after it ran aground, in Suez Canal, Egypt on March 28, 2021.
Stranded ship Ever Given, one of the world's largest container ships, is seen after it ran aground, in Suez Canal, Egypt on March 28, 2021. (Reuters)

Egypt has ordered preparations for lightening the cargo of the giant container ship grounded in the Suez Canal, the head of the canal's authority said.

In an interview with Egypt's Extra News on Sunday, Osama Rabie, the head of the Suez Canal Authority, said Egypt's President Abdel Fattah al Sisi ordered preparations for lightening the ship's cargo.

Rabie said the canal was losing $13-14 million in revenue daily after halting traffic due to the grounded ship and that 369 vessels were waiting to transit the canal.

The Ever Given container ship has been blocking the waterway since Tuesday and salvage teams have been hoping to free it with dredgers and tugs without unloading any of its cargo.

Suez Canal salvage teams were alternating between dredging and tugging on Sunday to dislodge a massive container ship blocking the busy waterway, while two sources said efforts had been complicated by rock under the ship's bow.

Dredgers working to dislodge the stranded vessel have so far shifted 27,000 cubic metres of sand, to a depth of 18 metres, and efforts would continue around the clock according to wind conditions and tides, the Suez Canal Authority said in a statement.

Billions of dollars of cargo stalled

Meanwhile, hope rose on Sunday as the MarineTraffic and VesselFinder applications said two tugboats were on their way to the vital waterway to help the salvage operation, while experts pinned hope on a high tide to dislodge the vessel.

The Italian-flagged Carlo Magno and the Dutch-flagged Alp Guard were in the Red Sea en route to the Suez Canal, the ship-tracking websites said.

The MV Ever Given, which is longer than four football fields, has been wedged diagonally across the span of the canal since Tuesday, blocking the waterway in both directions.

The crisis has forced companies to reconsider re-routing vessels around Africa's Cape of Good Hope, a longer and more expensive way to travel between Asia and Europe.

Billions of dollars of cargo are now stalled at either end of the Suez Canal and each passing day results in millions of dollars in losses for Egypt and commercial enterprises around the world.

READ MORE: Giant vessel blocking Suez Canal holds up $9.6B a day worth of traffic

Eyes on tide

Several notes of optimism were struck on Saturday, including from Rabie, who told a news conference that the megaship could be afloat by Sunday night.

"We could finish today or tomorrow (Sunday), depending on the ship's responsiveness" to high tides, he said, adding that 14 tugboats were deployed around the stricken vessel.

Rabie later told an Egyptian news channel the ship "moved 30 degrees from left and right" for the first time late on Saturday.

"It is a good sign," he said.

Hopes have been pinned on the spring high tide expected to start on Sunday night.

"If they don't manage to dislodge it during that high tide, the next high tide is not there for another couple of weeks, and that becomes problematic," Plamen Natzkoff, an expert at VesselsValue, has said.

Despite some predictions that the megaship could be refloated soon, Lloyd's List, a shipping data and news company, said on Sunday there was a "surge" in the number of vessels opting to go around Africa.

"Most major container lines are now diverting ships round Cape of Good Hope and warning of supply chain disruption ahead. Some are starting to reject bookings," it said on Twitter.

'Human error'

Richard Meade, an editor at Lloyd's List, added: "Sources close to the salvage operation told me this morning that optimism within the team of experts on site was rising and they were hoping that the vessel could be moved within the next 24-48 hours.

But the lines have clearly made their call already."

Officials have blamed 40-knots gusts and a sandstorm for the accident.

But Rabie on Saturday said "technical or human errors" could be behind the grounding of the Taiwan-run, Panama-flagged container ship near the southern end of the canal.

More than 320 ships are stalled at either end, Rabie said.

Millions in loses every day 

Egypt is losing some $12-14 million in revenue from the canal for each day it is closed, Rabie added, while Lloyd's List has said the blockage is holding up an estimated $9.6 billion worth of cargo each day between Asia and Europe.

In a sign of the knock-on effects, Syrian regime authorities said on Saturday they had been forced to ration already scarce fuel supplies, as the Suez suspension "has impacted oil imports to Syria and slowed arrival of a ship carrying fuel and oil products".

And Romania's animal health agency said on Saturday that 11 ships carrying livestock out of the country were affected by the blockage. 

NGO Animals International warned of a potential "tragedy" affecting some 130,000 animals.

Source: TRTWorld and agencies