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Suez Canal ship freed: How the moon helped and everything else you need to know

The Ever Given was stuck for nearly a week but, thanks to a huge rescue effort and help from the moon itself, traffic has resumed on the Suez Canal.

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You'll notice "Evergreen" is written across the Ever Given's body, but confusingly, that's branding for the Taiwanese company that operates the ship. 

Julianne Cona/Instagram

After nearly six days lodged aground in the Suez Canal, the cargo ship Ever Given was finally freed Monday. Traffic in the waterway has now resumed. 

The Suez Canal is one of the world's most important waterways. Located 75 miles east of Cairo, the capital of Egypt, it links the Mediterranean Sea to the Red Sea, allowing for direct shipping from Europe to Asia. Roughly 12% of the world's shipping traffic and a chunk of its oil supply goes through the manmade canal, which has become particularly vital following pandemic-related disruptions to shipping. 

That's why it was a big deal that a 1,312-foot-long ship, the Ever Given, was blocking the Suez Canal for nearly a week. With the canal's cargo traffic at a standstill, that meant delays in everything from oil to food to clothing to semiconductors.  

Egyptian TV footage triumphantly showed the ship aligned in a straight position along the canal, as previously reported by the BBC.

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The Suez Canal is open for business again, as this real-time tracker shows cargo ships sailing through.

Vesselfinder.com

So everything is OK now?

The Ever Given was lodged firmly in the embankments on each side of the Suez Canal. After six days of rigorous efforts, the ship was refloated Sunday, according to shipping services company Inchcape, and fully freed Monday.

"The MV Ever Given was successfully re-floated at 04:30 lt 29/03/2021. She is being secured at the moment. More information about next steps will follow once they are known," the company tweeted.

The vessel's refloating came after two additional tugboats were deployed Sunday, as reported by the Associated Press, to help a fleet of around 10 similar boats laboring to extract the 200,000-ton Ever Given. The Suez Canal Authority over the weekend also deployed more onland heavy machinery to dig around the ship's bow, which would make it easier for the vessel to be pulled out.

The effort was aided by a worm moon, which caused a high tide that made floating the ship easier. 

"We were helped enormously by the strong falling tide we had this afternoon,"  said Peter Berdowski, CEO of Boskalis, the company that lead the rescue effort, said to The Associated Press. "In effect, you have the forces of nature pushing hard with you, and they pushed harder than the two sea tugs could pull."  

Authorities had been working to extract the vessel for nearly a week. Experts said a couple of days of delay would be a major inconvenience for shipping companies, but that a week or more could prove catastrophic, and not just for shipping companies.

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Local authorities had been working since Tuesday to extract the 200,000-ton Ever Given ship.

Suez Canal Authority

"If the ship were to remain stuck for another week it could cause massive delays in the delivery of products, and every second of delay leaves billions of dollars' worth of disruptions on the line," Jennifer Bisceglie, CEO of supply chain risk management firm Interos, told CNET on Friday.

Berdowski cautioned on Thursday that the Ever Given being stuck for weeks was a very real possibility.

"We can't exclude it might take weeks, depending on the situation," Berdowski told the Dutch television program Nieuwsuur. "It is like an enormous beached whale. It's an enormous weight on the sand."

Shoei Kisen Kaisha, the company that owns the Ever Given, released a statement Thursday apologizing for the issue.

Meanwhile, the US government offered assistance to the Suez Canal Authority.

"In connection with the ongoing efforts to dislodge the container ship that ran aground during its passage through the Suez Canal, the Suez Canal Authority values the offer of the United States of America to contribute to these efforts," the SCA said in a statement Friday, "and looks forward to cooperating with the US in this regard in appreciation of this good initiative which confirms the friendly relations and cooperation between the two countries."

Wait, what happened?

Ever Given is a 200,000-ton cargo ship that spans a quarter mile, roughly the length of four football fields. You'll notice "Evergreen" is written across its body but, confusingly, that's branding for Evergreen Marine Corp., the Taiwanese company that operates the ship. 

On Tuesday, March 23, just before 8 a.m. Egypt time, strong gusts of wind knocked it off course. En route to Rotterdam from China, it was holding around 20,000 shipping containers of cargo, estimated to be worth $9 billion, when it became wedged in the canal's east bank.

"The accident is mainly due to the lack of visibility resulting from bad weather conditions as the country passes through a dust storm, with wind speed reaching 40 knots," Suez Canal Authority chief Osama Rabie said in a statement. 

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Planet Labs

No one on board was injured, according to the ship's technical manager, Bernhard Schulte Shipmanagement. But the task of extricating the Ever Given was momentous. The ship was wedged diagonally -- as you can see in the above aerial shot -- and is longer than the Canal is wide. The ship spans 1,312 feet, while the Canal's width ranges from 205 to 225 feet. 

The Suez Canal Authority deployed a gang of tugboats on Tuesday to pull the Ever Given out of its predicament, with more joining the effort throughout the week, with little success -- until Sunday. Smit Salvage, a renowned maritime rescue company, was hired on Wednesday to assist the SCA in breaking the bottleneck. 

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Maritime traffic piled up near the Suez Canal. At one point, over 300 ships were reported to be bottlenecked. 

Planet Labs

What did this mean? 

"Ship in front of us ran aground while going through the canal and is now stuck sideways," Julianne Cona wrote on Instagram as she snapped a photo of Ever Given from her own cargo ship, "looks like we might be here for a little bit."

It was one of the approximately 321 ships that had amassed in the bottleneck, according to the Suez Canal Authority.

When the ship was lodged, shipping companies faced a dilemma: wait for the Ever Given to be floated or divert around the Horn of Africa, another sea route that links Europe and Asia. The latter option would delay shipments by up to 14 days. 

Such delays could have caused severe shortages, as the global shipping industry is already beset by a lack of shipping containers and other complications arising from the COVID-19 pandemic. Oil was particularly vulnerable to the blockage, with the Suez Canal, which opened in 1869, being a key route for transporting oil from the Middle East to Asia and Europe. 

"The Suez Canal accounts for nearly 30% of all container ship traffic," said Interos' Bisceglie, "with carriers transporting oil, natural gas, clothing, food, electronics, machinery, and even semiconductor chips, an item which has already been in the midst of a global shortage." 

Has this happened before?

Yes.

Following mechanical issues, a Japanese vessel became lodged in the ground under the canal water in 2017. Tugboats refloated the ship within hours. A year prior, the CSCL Indian Ocean spent five days aground before being pulled out by tugboats. 

At first, officials at the canal hoped to dislodge the Ever Given within a day or two. Instead, the Ever Given has the dubious honor of blocking the canal longer than any other cargo ship during peacetime in history.

Suez Canal memes flowed

Has social media had anything to say about the drama? Of course it has!