If rescuers failed to move the Ever Given during the peak tide at the weekend, the next such moment would not come for another two weeks.
Rescue teams have resumed frantic efforts to dislodge a 400m-long, 224,000-tonne container vessel blocking the Suez Canal – but experts believe their best chance won’t come until Monday.
That is when the tide will reach a peak, and if efforts fail then, the next such window wouldn’t be for another two weeks.
The Ever Given vessel ran aground diagonally across the single-lane stretch of the southern canal on Tuesday morning after losing the ability to steer amid high winds and a dust storm, the Suez Canal Authority (SCA) said in a statement.
It is now blocking transit in both directions through one of the world’s busiest shipping channels for goods, oil, grain and other products linking Asia and Europe.
At least 150 other vessels needing to pass through the crucial waterway are waiting for the obstruction to clear.
Five tugs were surrounding the Ever Given, trying to drag the vessel to deeper water, and three more were heading towards it, ship-tracking software showed.
Dredgers are digging around the ship to allow it to back out of its position, and if it it doesn’t budge, the next step is to drain the ballast water and the fuel.
Nick Sloane, the salvage master responsible for refloating the Costa Concordia, the cruise ship that capsized on the coast of Italy in 2012, said the best chance for freeing a massive container ship that’s blocking the Suez Canal may not come until Sunday or Monday, when the tide will reach a peak.
“This is definitely not a quick refloat operation,” Mr Sloane, who has participated in at least a hundred salvage operations of ships, aircrafts, oil rigs and pipelines, tld Bloomberg in a phone interview from Cape Town.
Richard Meade, London-based managing editor of Lloyd’s List Maritime Intelligence, also agreed that it will become easier to free the ship by Monday. “You have a significant increase in water there,” he said.
But if efforts on Sunday and Monday also fail, the delays for shipping traffic will likely get even worse.
The next opportunity would be another 12 to 14 days away, when tides are expected to swell again, said Mr Sloane, who works as the senior salvage master for Fort Lauderdale, Florida-based Resolve Marine Group.
Marine services firm GAC issued a note to clients overnight saying efforts to free the vessel using tug boats continued, but that wind conditions and the sheer size of the vessel “were hindering the operation”.
Authorities began work again to free the vessel on Thursday morning after halting for the night, an Egyptian canal authority official said.
Ship-tracking software shows that the Ever Given has made only minor changes to its position over the past 24 hours, despite the deployment of several tugs to drag it to deeper water.
Several dozen vessels, including other large container ships, tankers carrying oil and gas, and bulk vessels hauling grain have backed up at either end of the canal to create one of the worst shipping jams seen for years.
Roughly 30 per cent of the world’s shipping container volume transits through the 193 km (120 mile) Suez Canal daily, and about 12 per cent of total global trade of all goods.
Oil prices fell back after surging 6 per cent on Wednesday on concerns over disruptions to shipping from the skyscraper-sized cargo ship wedged across the trade route.
Shipping experts say that if the blockage is not likely to be cleared within the next 24-48 hours, some shipping firms may be forced to re-route vessels around the southern tip of Africa, which would add roughly a week to the journey.
But the chairman of the Suez Canal Authority told media that despite the blockage some cargo was able to move south and that efforts to dislodge Ever given would continue.
Canal service provider Leth Agencies said at least 150 ships were waiting for the Ever Given to be cleared, including vessels near Port Said on the Mediterranean Sea, Port Suez on the Red Sea and those already stuck in the canal system on Egypt’s Great Bitter Lake.
Cargo ships already behind the Ever Given in canal will be reversed south back to Port Suez to free the channel, Leth Agencies said. Authorities hope to do the same to the Ever Given when they can free it.
Evergreen Marine Corp., a major Taiwan-based shipping company that operates the ship, said in a statement that the Ever Given had been overcome by strong winds as it entered the canal from the Red Sea but none of its containers had sunk.