Cairo, March 28: At least 321 vessels are currently jammed around Egypt's Suez Canal as efforts are under way to refloat a giant cargo ship that has run aground and disrupted traffic on one of the world's busiest trade routes, according to a top official.
"The number of ships waiting now, whether in the north, the south or in the Lakes is 321. We provide them with all the logistic services they ask for," Xinhua news agency quoted Osama Rabie, chairman of the Suez Canal Authority (SCA), as saying to reporters on Saturday.
"It's difficult to tell when the problem will be solved, because, as I said, the ship is huge with a large load and it is stuck in a shallow area," he said.
He pointed out that 14 tug boats are working to salvage the Panama-flagged ship, Ever Given, from all directions.
"Last night, there were signs of success to the point that we were very hopeful that the salvage would be completed last night," the SCA chief said, adding the Authority is prepared with several scenarios to refloat the mega ship that causes "a big crisis".
The 224,000-ton Panama-flagged Ever Given was grounded on Tuesday in the canal after losing the ability to steer amid high winds and a sandstorm, which led the SCA to announce on Thursday temporary suspension of navigation in the man-made waterway.
Rabie said there will be investigation into the exact cause of the accident but after the rescue process is done. Dutch firm Boskalis with its emergency response team Smit Salvage has been hired by Ever Given's owner to assist the SCA in the rescue operations.
Linking the Mediterranean Sea with the Red Sea, the Suez Canal is a major lifeline for global seaborne trade since it allows ships to travel between Europe and South Asia without navigating around Africa, thereby reducing the sea voyage distance between Europe and India by about 7,000 km.
Some 12 percent of the world trade volume passes through the Suez Canal.
The Suez Canal provides one of Egypt's main sources of income, alongside tourism and remittances from expatriates.
In 2015, Egypt opened a 35 km extension running parallel to the historical canal, which was inaugurated in 1869. The expansion allows two-way traffic along the previously one-way canal and is designed to reduce the waiting time for vessels. - IANS